Should You Speak Up?

You are at your 8-year-old daughter’s recreational soccer game and you are livid. Why? Because your daughter isn’t getting the playing time you think she deserves. You seethe and stomp back and forth on the sidelines. Should you confront the coach after the game and demand more playing time for Lucy?

Later that day, you find yourself at your 12-year-old son’s baseball game. Danny’s pitching – even though he pitched in the game yesterday – and you are worried that the coach is overusing him, putting his arm’s long-term health at risk. Do you approach thesoccer coach and express your concerns?

Both of these situations occur every weekend – maybe even every day – on America’s sports fields and, while both involve the parent-and-coach relationship, each requires a different response.

One of the hardest decisions for a youth sports parent to make is when – or whether – to speak to their child’s coach. While every situation is obviously unique, here are some guidelines to follow that will help you be the model sports parent whose children proudly say, “That’s my mom (or dad)!” instead of the parent whose children are embarrassed to have them at the field – and quit before they discover a love of the game.

SHUT UP: If you’re upset about your child’s playing time (usually the perceived lack thereof) or the position in which the coach is playing your child, for heaven’s sakes, hold your tongue! If you’re like most parents, you might think your child is more deserving or a better athlete than the others, but you are not exactly an objective observer. Especially in the early years of recreational sports, kids need to learn to respect the coach and be a team player, and the best way to teach them these valuable life lessons is by example: when you let the coach do his or her job without meddling, complaining, or worse, yelling about playing time, you demonstrate your respect for the coach – and the game – and your child will emulate this behavior.

SHUT UP AND LET YOUR CHILD SPEAK UP: As your child matures, she needs to learn how to advocate for herself. This is true on the sports field as well as in the classroom – and in life in general. If your youth athlete is 12 or older, she should develop her own relationship with the coach, which includes advocating for herself in terms of playing time and position. Especially as your child enters the world of competitive and high school sports, you need to hand over the reins of your child’s sports participation to your child herself and just be there to support her.

SPEAK UP: No matter what your child’s age, if the situation involves health or safety-related issues, such as concussion protocol, injury prevention, return-to-play, degrading or demeaning behavior, or athlete over-use, you not only should speak up, you have an obligation to do so. While we all hope our children’s coaches have their long-term physical and emotional health in mind, the unfortunate truth is that some do not, and the only person who can protect your child in those situations is YOU. Likewise, if you suspect any type of sexual harassment, abuse, or inappropriate behavior – or if your child comes to you with any of these concerns – you must speak up. If not directly to the coach, then to your league’s governing body.

As a youth sports parent myself, I try to abide by these guidelines, but I know it’s not easy. Believe me, there have been times in which I have broken my own rules. Likewise, there have been times that I felt my child’s health was at risk and I didn’t speak up when I should have. But mostly, following the guidelines above have helped me be a positive force in my children’s sports experiences.

What do you think? Do you think these guidelines make sense? Do you have other rules you follow as a sports parent?

[This post originally appeared in June 2013]

Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, California. An avid tennis player and swimmer, Emily has a son who plays varsity high school baseball and a daughter who plays competitive soccer and hopes to play high school tennis in the fall. She has been a team manager for a number of her children’s sports teams. You can find Emily’s blog about team management and youth sports parenting here at Follow her on Twitter at @emilygcohen or email her at [email protected]

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