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Go Ask Mom

Youth Sports: Cheer, support young players; keep criticism, sugary snacks in check

Posted June 7, 2015

Simmons, YMCA youth sports director, has years of experience coaching his sons' teams and others.

Like many dads, Mark Simmons spends a lot of time on the sidelines at his kids' various sporting events.

His hours logged at various youth games, however, extends far beyond that. He's also been youth sports director for the YMCA of the Triangle since 2002.

But it all ramped up when Simmons, who has been married for 15 years and has three sons, ages 15 months, 9 and 11, started serving as head coach or assistant coach for his older sons' teams. They've played basketball, flag football, futsal, T-ball and both recreation and challenge soccer since they began as under-5 players.

"Our goal in YMCA sports is to provide a positive experience for each player where they learn skills and have fun in a healthy, competitive environment," Simmons tells me. "By doing so, we hope that each player will find something they enjoy and be more apt to be active for life leading to a healthier lifestyle."

I'm the mom of two very athletic, sports-loving girls. I also spend a lot of time on various soccer and T-ball fields, basketball courts and swim practices. I checked in with Simmons by email with some questions about how parents who coach and parents who watch can support their kids. Here's our email conversation:

Go Ask Mom: What's the best way for parents to handle themselves on the sidelines? Can we cheer? Should we criticize?

Mark Simmons: As a parent, it is best to be a cheerleader for the players and cheering on the action after it happens. Coaches often may have given a specific goal or instruction for the players to work on during the game that parents are not always aware of. Therefore, let the coaches provide the instruction and not try to instruct as a parent from the sideline. The best thing for players to have is the freedom to think and make a decision (even if they make a mistake).   When it is a good decision, then parents and coaches can praise it. If there were other or better options, then good coaches will then follow-up with that player when they are subbed out or at practice to get the player to think about that decision and what other options there were. I would be careful of criticizing as this just leads player to be fearful of making mistakes and making a decision.

GAM: What's your advice to parents who coach their own kids' teams? Can you be a parent and a coach at the same time?

MS: The first lesson I learned when I coached my oldest for the first time was that I had this unrealistic expectation of him to be the best and always paying attention. I realized that he is a player just like all the others on the team and needs the same amount of patience that I was showing to all the other players. There are times that I have to remind my boys that when I am providing instruction or feedback specific to them (at a practice or game) that it is from a coaching standpoint and trying to help them. I think you can be a parent and a coach at the same time; but need to remember that you are wearing the coaching hat first in those situations. Meaning that you should have the same expectations, patience and treatment of your own player as the others.

GAM: What's the best thing parents can say after their child's team wins a game? What should we say after our child loses a game?

MS: Did you have fun/enjoy the game should always be the first question, either way. What do you think you did well? Did you learn anything new? If greeted with silence, then just remind player of your approval and that you are there for him/her. The worst thing to do is go over a list of critiques from what you observed.

GAM: Where do you stand on snacks after games and practices. They seem like such a big part of the experience, but they often come right before a meal! (This is a big pet peeve of mine!).

MS: I do not think snacks after practices are a necessity. I think snacks after a game are a good opportunity for players/team to bond with one another and continue to build friendships. We recognize the importance and value that parents have for healthy snacks so we encourage our YMCA families to provide a healthy snack and not just an “easy sugar treat." It is healthier for the players and helps create a healthy habit for them and future sports participation.

GAM: What do you love about youth sports?

MS: I enjoy instructing each player and having them learn the basics skills of each sport. It is a cool experience when you see a player “get it” and then be able to execute it in a game. I like the variety of lessons beyond the game (work ethic, striving to do their best, sportsmanship, setting and working towards goals, etc.) that players are able to learn from participating in sports. When we as the coaches and the parents can keep the game in the proper perspective (not focused on just winning only), then there are so many positives that players can get from their own experiences. I enjoy being a YMCA sports director and helping our coaches carry out the vision of a positive sports experience.

Go Ask Mom features local parents every Monday. In June, we'll exclusively feature dads.

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