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“Come on, you can do better!”
by William Stratbucker, MD on 04/21/2011 at 8:28 AM

While in the moment, this might seem like the best thing to yell from the sidelines at your son or daughter as they compete in spring soccer on a cold, damp Saturday morning. Everyone wants their child or team to succeed. I happen to think there are many other more appropriate ways to motivate your child to perform at the best of his or her ability.


My 6-year-old daughter is running track for a second season and her twin brother couldn't decide between soccer and baseball so he will be doing both. I've agreed to coach baseball and was recently trained to be a certified soccer referee.


We've all heard the sideline comments. We've heard the overzealous coach, parent or grandparent barking at one of the kids on the team to "shoot now!" or "run faster!" I'm also guilty at times of a few like "Get that rebound!" Sometimes we need to be loud to overcome the other noise at athletic events when encouraging our children. However, some of us need to make different decisions about what we say, when we say it and how often we yell. I asked my son after a winter basketball game as he walked out of the gym in shorts into 10 degree weather if he heard anything that anybody said when they yelled from the bleachers in the noisy gym. He said, "Nope, not anything."


After that, I changed my approach. I waited until a break in the game and had time to say one thing to him directly that he did great.


I see kids who are overweight or obese almost every day in my pediatric practice. I want them to be out running around and having fun while they are doing it. I want those who do not have a weight problem to be preventing one by participating in organized sports. What I don't want is a child - any child, regardless of body type or skill level - to feel shameful of their performance during a sporting event.


We cannot be innocent bystanders anymore. If you see (or more likely hear) a parent or a coach overstepping their bounds, say something to them. I'm not talking about the mom who is yelling "go, go, go!" as her daughter streaks down the sideline ready to center the soccer ball to an awaiting teammate. I'm talking about the comments like "Get over there and guard that kid!" or "What is wrong with you out there!" This goes for parent-coach interactions and those with the referees.


Kids are motivated appropriately by praise and the joy of playing with teammates. Yes, they also want to win but really, we need to decide if that is their true goal or ours as parents and coaches. I'll have it easier coaching elementary aged students where the competition isn't as fierce as the older kids, but I'll be thinking about this as I work with my rising baseball stars.


My suggestion is that if you hear someone making inappropriate comments that you address it with the team's coach first and expect the coach to interact with the parent if necessary. If it is the coach who is the offender, approach other parents to see if your concerns are valid and ask others to have a conversation with the coach with two of the parents.


What have you heard on the sidelines? What have you done about it? What is your suggestion to others on how to handle the situation?

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Comment posted by Anonymous on 09/25/2011 at 8:38 AM
I see, I spupsoe that would have to be the case.
Comment posted by Dr. Stratbucker on 04/22/2011 at 1:23 PM
Thank you for reading and the comment. I think we can learn a lot from what you all are seeing and discussing. This scenario is exactly why I wrote on the topic. We all want our children to perform well in all of their endeavors. But, as parents, we need to be patient and realistic and allow for them to both learn the sport and have fun. I don't think this child was doing either. I would try to see if the child was part of a team that had a coach that might be noticing this behavior as well. This coach is in a position to respond by reminding the parents of the essentials of team participation and what motivates and inspires kids to excel. Ideally, this is done at the beginning of the season and all child caregivers are present to hear this advice. This doesn't happen often, so frequent reminders throughout the season to the parents, etc. via email, a team website, handouts or verbally at the beginning of practice are good ways to make healthy encouragement the expectation of everyone involved in helping the team and the players be successful. If this dad hears the advice being given often to everyone, perhaps he'll catch on to what the norm should be for all eager parents. If not, a personal contact needs to be made with the parent from either the coach or a senior member of the league administration. Anyone else have some thoughts? Has anyone been in a position to confront a parent and had it go well so we can learn from your experience?
Comment posted by D Henderson on 04/21/2011 at 12:51 PM
Thanks for the article Dr. Stratbucker. This is a great thing to think about at this time of year. I was at a park yesterday with my son and witnessed a father trying to work with his son of some baseball fundamentals. Unfortunately, this man repeated berated the child and told him that he was hitting like a girl. To worsen this, the man's daughters were there as well to effectively alienate all of his children by his harsh comments. Sports and activities like this need to be fun, we need to keep kids active. What could be done in that scenario?
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