From the Evansville Courier Press, May 7, 2011
With a local Mother's Day youth soccer tournament going on in town this weekend, expect to not only see several young soccer players in action but also "little league parents."
A sports psychologist I once worked with described a little league parent less as someone who has children who engage in youth sports, and more as a parent who looks out on the field and sees their own head on their child's shoulders.
Little league parents don't normally realize that they are behaving in this fashion, and have a tough time stepping away from the emotional attachment they have from watching their own child chase a ball around a field to recognize they are doing so.
Ego has a lot to do with influencing a little league parent to behave in that fashion — when a parent subconsciously sees their own head on their child's shoulders, they start to get embarrassed with performance that is below their self-conceived standards.
The important thing to remember is to encourage your child to have fun, play hard and to get exercise. If a parent is encouraging their child to participate in sports to fuel their own ego, that is a larger problem than how many goals he/she scores or how many minutes he/she plays.
Here are some tips to identify whether you are a little league parent:
* If you are trying to coach you child or their teammates during the game but are not actually the coach, you are a LLP.
Trust the real coach to provide the instruction that your child needs, and understand that children learn from trial and error — it's actually not bad if they make mistakes if they are able to learn and get better from them. If they get shouted at whenever they give the ball away or don't get a shot on goal, they will stop taking chances and will stifle their creativity.
* If you are shouting at your child to the point where he/she turns away from the action in the game to look or listen to you, you are a LLP. A good spectator supports their child or team and is not a distraction.
A healthy exercise would be for a parent to ask their child what they would like their parent to shout during the game — in most cases, I would guess that the child would prefer them not to shout anything at all. Fear of embarrassment at an early age tends to hurt a lot more than fear of injury or fear of failure.
* If you are shouting at a referee who is half your age, you are a LLP. Understand that some of the referees are children or teenagers, and the more they are yelled at, the more distracted they are at their job. Imagine someone walking into your office and shouting over your shoulder as you smacked at keys on your keyboard — my guess is that it will be hard to concentrate.
Where coaches or parents might think that they are 'working' the referee by shouting, in most cases it either distracts the official or upsets them to the point that they could subconsciously work against your favor. Encourage LLPs to look in the mirror before they hop into their mini-van: they are not Bobby Knight or Billy Martin, and this isn't the NCAA Final Four or World Series.
* If you try to talk to your child's coach before or after a game about the role your child plays — be it their position or playing time — you are a LLP. It is irrational thought that would lead a parent to think their child's coach would want their assistance before, during or after a game — little league parents are irrational.
The reality is that for every 'little league parent' on the sideline in a lawn chair, there are about 20 others who behave in a fashion that portrays a tremendous example for their children.
As parents, we need to be very conscious to provide an example that will make our children fall in love with the game, and not scare them away.