By Thad Hawkes, USTA Florida entry level/high school competitive coordinator
Youth sports in America have always played a key role in our society. They give kids an outlet for their abundance of energy; offer various forms of physical fitness; teach physical, mental and social skills; and most importantly…provide a way for kids to have fun with other kids.
Youth sports have also offered important roles for parents. Some of those roles include, coaching, transportation, fundraising, providing snacks and drinks when the game ends, and most importantly…to cheer and support the kids.
However, and I’m not sure when this happened, but things have changed, and not for the better.
There have always been parents who are known as “those parents or that parent” who always seem to have issues with a coach or team or opponent. Every sport has them, and likely will until the end of time. Perhaps the end of time is now.
Youth sports in America have taken a hit over recent years. Participation is down in almost every sport. Retention is down, and volunteering to help is down and dropping. These are all sad trends.
Reasons abound as to why. More options for kids. Less time available for parents. Cost. Perceived value and more. But there are other reasons and some of these may be uncomfortable to hear about, and the question has to be asked…
Are parents and coaches getting too involved?
A recent story written by Scott Stump for TODAY talked about “youth sports referees across the U.S. quitting because of abusive parents.” The story can be read here.
The sport of tennis is not immune to this.
Let me preface this by stating that “I am a tennis parent.” I have been and still am passionate about my kids when they play. I have tried my best to act respectfully but admittedly it can be hard. Tennis has played and still plays a major role in my life. I’ve played, taught and now work for USTA Florida. My two sons played tournaments, high school tennis and more. I’ve tried my best to be good and supportive in the best ways but not always succeeded. Most importantly…I’ve learned!
Sadly, this is being written because we have seen behavior go from bad to worse. As you read this, think about what you’ve experienced. What you’ve witnessed. If it’s happened to you or worse…taken part.
Parents have gone from confronting a coach or official to getting in the face of teenage volunteers who are simply working to gain their necessary community service hours (ironic). They ask the parent of their kids opponent to “step out to the parking lot” and perhaps the most egregious of all…verbally abusing their child’s opponent.
A child learns about respect and character first and foremost from their parents. How has it gotten to a point when an adult thinks it’s ok to verbally accost someone else’s child?
We all love our kids. We are all supportive and passionate about what they do. However, when you allow your passion to boil over to the point of threatening fellow parents with violence or yelling at someone else’s child, maybe it’s time to exhale!
You may be reading this and know that it doesn’t apply to you. However, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t witnessed it or heard about it. Parents contact us weekly about incidents that they have either seen or been directly affected by and it’s disturbing.
While I can’t speak for the other sports, I can and certainly will continue to speak about tennis.
Everyone has to do a better job!
Coaches — teach parents as well as their kids about our sport. Teach them about what they can expect when they play tournaments. How to handle situations that will arise. Teach them about respect, character, humility and all the other positive traits that develop good citizens of our game and life.
Parents — remember that sports are meant to be fun! Kids play for the enjoyment. If they see you stressing out or worse, you have to realize that it effects them and their enjoyment. Teach them that things won’t always go their way and that it’s always better to do right then to be right.
Never forget that your kids are a reflection of you. Encourage positive behavior. Teach them to respect the game and that every time they step on a court, they represent themselves and their family.
Also remember that when you sit in the stands, the same applies to you.
Everyone is a reflection of our sport. Let’s make sure that when we look in the mirror, we like what we see!
How I Avoid Being That Tennis Parent