Before former professional baseball player Mike Matheny became the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager, he was just a Little League coach. After witnessing some disturbing behavior from a group of the parents, he wrote a letter in which he commented “The biggest problem in youth sports has been the parents.”
The letter leaked and eventually went viral on social media, adding to the chorus of voices who have been critical of the modern sports parent. It now seems all too common to hear about fights at games, altercations with referees, and an unhealthy dose of adults shouting at young athletes. Articles like How Parents are Ruining Youth Sports, Parents Gone Wild on the Sidelines, and Kids Sports Were Better Before Parents Were Involved all paint a harsh picture.
After realizing he had struck a nerve with his comments, Matheny later remarked, “The purpose was to explain to a group of parents, that I saw a big problem in organized sports.” The key phrase in there is “group of parents.” We know that significant improvements could be made to youth sports, but we can’t let a few bad apples ruin the bunch.
John O’Sullivan, Founder of Changing the Game Project, observed, “When sports are done the right way, with supportive parents and coaches who intentionally teach character and life lessons, children are positively impacted in so many ways. Sports has never been more important for our children’s long term physical, social and psychological well-being, so it’s crucial we get them right.”
In a 2012 interview with soccer legend Mia Hamm, Mike Woitalla of Soccer America posed the question, “What advice do you have for parents of aspiring players?” Her response: “As a parent myself, I can pay other people to do their job in terms of coaching my kids. I don’t want anyone but me and my husband to be their parents.” We must all remember how crucial our role in youth sports is to the children, regardless of whether you are coaching, officiating, or simply watching the game. Volunteers and parents keep youth sports programs alive and kicking all year long.
The stakes are high. Kids who don’t have a good experience early on are significantly less likely to continue playing throughout their life. Beyond physical growth, these are formative years for things like character, attitude, and respect. “Youth and high school athletes perform their best and get the most out of sports in terms of life lessons when their parents keep their eyes on the big picture,” said Jim Thompson, Founder and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance. “The big picture is not a matter of wins and losses, playing time, or the pursuit of scholarships, but how your children benefit from life lessons through sports that will help them develop into fulfilled, productive, contributing members of our society.” Amazing opportunities are created by youth sports. They often bring families closer, build confidence, and provide a healthy outlet for kids. This has not been lost, but we should all work together to provide the best environment possible for our little sports stars.
Despite the recent negative attention, we are privileged to work with countless parents, volunteers, relatives, and friends who give countless hours to supporting young athletes. As former athletes ourselves, we thank you for all you continue to do to make these fantastic memories possible.
Here’s to you.
Dearest Parents and Volunteers,
You give up your time, season after season. Countless hours are spent in the car bringing your child to practices, games, and tournaments. It’s not always easy.
The kids might test your patience. They may need reminder after reminder about that water bottle they keep forgetting to fill.
Working at the ‘Snack Shack’ might not be your ideal Saturday afternoon, but you’re there with a smile on your face.
You brave the unknown that is their sports bag, after a full day of training. And somehow remove grass stains from their uniform. It’s like magic!
Your child may not say it, but they thank you. Having you on the sideline, cheering their name, makes all the difference. You have a front row seat to see them win, lose, get knocked down, and stand back up. You’re there to see them grow and to see them persevere.
Some of you may get a little intense at times…you can’t help it.
You are their biggest fan!
And we are your biggest fan.
- The Blue Sombrero Team
A special thanks to:
Changing the Game Project: Their mission is to ensure that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’
Positive Coaching Alliance: A National non-profit that provides workshops and online courses for youth and high school sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes, as well as free online resources at www.PCADevZone.org
“How parents are ruining youth sports” (Boston Globe, 2014)
“Kids Sports Were Better Before Parents Were Involved” (Chicago Now, 2015)
“Letter to Parents” (Mike Matheny)