What Makes a Great Sports (Or Theatre, Or…) Parent by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
When our daughter Abby was playing club soccer, she always noticed where I stood during her games—and it was never with parents of her teammates. “Why won’t you stand with the other parents?” she’d frequently ask.
While my response to my then 11-year-old daughter was overly simple, it revolved around my discomfort with vocal adults who didn’t know the game well (I coached Nobles varsity soccer teams for 20 years); more importantly, I simply grew tired of adults who were way too caught up in the "quality" of performance of their child and the results of an individual contest.
Over the years a significant body of research has evolved around being an effective parent of a high school athlete—and I would maintain that these lessons apply to any extracurricular activity that can be directly observed by parents.
When I ask Nobles students why they play sports, they invariably say, “Because it is fun.” And when I ask when sports are not fun for them, the responses often turn to “…when my parents put too much pressure on me.” A recent article a colleague shared with me outlines many of the ways in which parents can be positive sports (or extracurricular) parents.
Most important, if you can, just show up. As much as kids often say, “You don’t need to come,” they really do want you there—and they want you cheering for their team, not just for them. At Nobles most kids really love their teams or their casts and they want to share that with you and see that you support them and the group.
We have all witnessed the "nightmare sports parent" who spends the majority of any game berating officials, second-guessing coaches or criticizing the performance of our child’s teammate. Our behavior as parents (in every context) is the surest way to set an example for our children. Those of us who complain about officials, coaches, players on the other (or our own) team, etc.— often have the children with the biggest issues with sportsmanship. Remember, just like Abby playing club soccer, they notice where we are and what we are doing.
We should also take our cues about our post-game behavior from our kids. If they have lost a big game or dropped important lines in a show, they will be disappointed and need our support—not our editorials about how decisions made by referees, coaches, teammates or fellow actors could have changed the outcome. I always try to remember two things in these moments: to acknowledge that such disappointments are hard and to remind myself that "this too will pass," and good lessons can be learned moving forward.
Finally, it is important for us to bear in mind that coaching a team or directing a play is a demanding and emotionally draining job. I’ve had countless sleepless nights thinking about what I might have done differently as a coach to reach an individual player or to help a Nobles team have a different outcome in an important contest. I was fine with parents engaging me about ways in which their children could improve their performance or behavior in the team setting, and I was always interested in things going on (at home, with friends, personal issues) for a student that might have an impact on him or her. What should be off limits, however, are topics such as playing time, strategy or other players on the team (or in the context of the theatre, roles in plays, other actors, etc.). If those matters concern your son or daughter, she or he should be the one going to talk to the coach (or director)—these conversations, with support from an advisor or another trusted Nobles adult, can provide really powerful growth opportunities for our kids.
We have been very lucky at Nobles to have generations of parents who are phenomenally supportive in all the right ways—and we look forward to continuing those positive and productive relationships as we head in to the busy schedule of games and performances this year.