Tips on How to Be a Winning Sports Parent

By James Leary

This open letter to parents has been adopted and tweaked from my old high school coach from Massachusetts. I hope it will help your children have the best experience they can, individually and as a team. You play a key role in the success of your child. I know as I’m not too far removed from my high school playing days.  These are my thoughts on being a good sports parent.

James Leary

Your children need and want your support. They may not say it to you, but it’s true. You don’t need to be overly vocal on the sidelines to make your support known to them. A simple “good luck today” or “give it your best” is enough for them to know you’re there.

As a coach, I preach that all we can do is give it our very best shot. One of my greatest coaches told me, “Control the controllables.”  It sounds funny but it’s the truth.  We can control the work we put in, the preparation, the approach and the attitude. We can’t control the outcome. We can’t control the weather, the officiating or injuries. We can’t control how good the other team is. We don’t focus on “winning” because we can’t control that.  Our goal is to win which is why we prepare. If we do our best to execute and play as a team, we’ll give ourselves the best opportunity to win. And that’s the irony.  We don’t focus on winning because players sometime tighten up and get nervous.

The best thing you can do is to encourage your child to give their best in practice every day. Encourage them to support their teammates, be coachable and to stay positive.  I keep in touch with the guys I played with during my club lacrosse career.  A lot of us still play together each summer because it brings us back together.  We spent a lot of time traveling around the country. We put in lots of sweat and had plenty of laughs along the way.

After a game, give your child space.  Players need time and space to transition from being a “performer” to being just a regular kid.   They probably don’t want to talk a lot about the game or the specifics. I can tell you from experience, they don’t want to answer questions.  Simply knowing you are there is enough! Kids don’t want parents to be invested TOO much in what they do.  They don’t want to think it’s more important to us as parents than to them as athletes. Of course, you are paying for them to do something that they love but it’s their thing. Let them own it! Be interested and supportive but it’s their thing not yours.

When it comes to games, cheer for all the players, not just your own. Better yet, cheer for other players more than you cheer for your own. That reinforces the notion of TEAM. Being a good athlete doesn’t make you a good person. Being nice and kind to others matters more than being a great athlete. When college coaches are interested in a player, they want to know what their grades are. They want to know if they’re coachable. They what to know what type of person and teammate they are.

Finally, I’ve seen more lacrosse games than I count but I have never seen a referee change a call because of parents yelling at him. To be honest, in most cases it works against the team. Referees have a tough time making a “great” call all the time.  If there are serious problems, the coaches will address the issue with the refs.

Let the players play, the coaches coach and the officials officiate.

 – James Leary is a Manager with 3D Georgia Lacrosse and was a University of Vermont four-year starter