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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 10-Sep-15 14:48:40

To be a great sports parent, act like a grandparent

When it comes to quiet, unfailing support, guess who does it best? That's it, grandparents. According to author Jessica Lahey, there's no one more suited to cheering from the stands.

Jessica Lahey

To be a good sports parent, act like a grandparent

Posted on: Thu 10-Sep-15 14:48:40


Lead photo

Author photographer credit (c) Kristin Hobermann

Youth sports offer parents the gift of time with their children, but according to some research, sports offer grandparents a moment to feel really great about their role in their grandchildren's lives.

Most sports participation requires a fair amount of car travel to practices and tournaments, and in my experience this is where some of the most honest and unguarded conversations with my teenage son take place. So much of parenting is about being there when our kids decide they want to talk to us. I have also found that the more positive and relaxed the atmosphere in the car, the more often kids will seize the opportunity to talk about difficult subjects, topics that are not likely to come up in the usual course of a stressful, task-orientated and tightly scheduled day. Here is a place to talk about the ups and downs of what happened at the game or at practice, a place to confide in disappointments, exhaustion, passion or disinterest.

Unfortunately this is not the case for the majority of families, as Bruce Brown and Rob Miller, two former coaches who now run Proactive Coaching LLC, discovered.

Over the course of twelve years, Brown and Miller conducted an informal survey of athletes about what makes supportive and effective sports parents. When Brown asked college athletes, "What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?" their overwhelming response was, "The ride home from games with my parents." Teens across the country are apparently sharing tense car rides home from games with parents who use the hours of travel time to criticise players, second-guess coaches, and deride referees. That's a lot of valuable parenting opportunity wasted, hours that could be used for conversation and the enjoyment of each other's company.

Even in the face of embarrassing failures on the field, grandparents support their grandchildren with no ulterior motive or agenda. So if you want to become the kind of person your child wants to be around after the big game, act more like a grandparent.

In an illustrative corollary to this finding, this study revealed who kids really want at their games and, presumably, in the car on the way home: grandparents.

Grandparents don't criticise or micromanage in the moments after the game.

Grandparents don't critique the coach's strategy or a referee's call. Even in the face of embarrassing failures on the field, grandparents support their grandchildren with no ulterior motive or agenda. So if you want to become the kind of person your child wants to be around after the big game, act more like a grandparent. When your kids have kids, do you imagine your response to a missed goal will be to criticise and berate your grandchildren, or are you simply going to enjoy being around them?

My mother is fond of telling me that the most wonderful thing about having grandchildren is that grandparents get to enjoy the fun parts (like watching sports practice) without the anxiety and stress over the grandchild's performance. Try, fail, succeed, she doesn't care, she just wants to be there, cheering her grandchildren on through all of it.

And so, when parents ask how they can be supportive of their children in sports, I tell them this: let the coach be the coach, let the referee be the referee, and when it comes time for your child to play, and act like a grandparent.

Jessica's new book The Gift of Failure: How to Step Back and Let Your Child Succeed is published by Short Books and is available from Amazon.

By Jessica Lahey

Twitter: @shortbooksuk

Greyduster Thu 10-Sep-15 22:22:15

When my son was playing under-11s football, I was the most dreadful and competitive of touchline parents. I think back on it now with total embarrassment. I have seen junior football matches turn even the most buttoned-up and genteel of mothers into screaming harridans! DS has, of course, long forgiven me for my over-exuberance and loud mouth! Last weekend, we got up early on Sunday morning to go and watch our only grandson play his first match for the under-9s team he has just earned a place in. It was wonderful to be out there with the parents (don't know if there were any other GPs), encouraging the boys, applauding the goals from both teams (but especially the two scored by our GS!), and having a great time! Not a screaming harridan or loud mouthed overbearing father in sight. I know that the junior leagues go to great lengths to foster a culture of respect these days, not only from players but from spectators too. Great times for our youngsters and great to be a part of it.

durhamjen Sat 12-Sep-15 14:17:36

My son is the manager/ trainer of my grandson's team. I do not want to be in the car after a match!