With estimates of 30 to 40 million children participating in organized youth sports in the U.S., you will likely be attending your fair share of athletic events this fall. You know you have to drive your child to and from practice and make sure his or her jersey is washed for game day, but your support of your student athlete goes far beyond that. From proper nutrition to early bed times, you are a key factor in your child's athletic success.
In addition to the physical support you offer your child, your emotional support is important as well. Student athletes are faced with a number of issues such as the question to use performance enhancing drugs, maintaining good grades, and being a productive member of a cohesive team. There are a number of things you can do to guide your child to make sound decisions as a student athlete this year.
Support the Balancing Act As your child gets older and her sport gets more competitive, the time spent involved in that sport increases. Practices are usually every day after school or in the evening and often on the weekend as well. Some sports, such as hockey, practice in the mornings before school because of limited availability of practice facilities.
In addition to the hours spent on the field, your child needs to maintain the hours spent in the books. Creating a schedule for your child will help her find time for both school and sports. Write all practices and games on a calendar in a common area of the house. Encourage her to map out her week by writing important homework assignments or tests on the calendar so she gives herself enough time to study.
It's easy for families to procrastinate long-term projects and class assignments after a long day at work, school and practice. Remember that studying a little bit each night, even when she is tired, will benefit your child in the long run. Be wise about how you spend what little down time you have. This may mean saying no to weekend parties or gatherings in order to give your student athlete some rest. School always comes first and many athletic programs have rules regarding minimum grades in order to participate in sports. Discuss the school's policy with your child and communicate with her teachers to make sure she is maintaining her grades. If her grades drop, you need to re-evaluate her participation on the team.
Be a Good SportThere has been lots of press on this topic and you may think you already show good sportsmanship while watching your child's game. Keep in mind that your child hears everything- even things you think you said under your breath. Stay positive- even if your team is losing or another athlete makes an error on the field. Be the first to yell "That's OK, Johnny. Here we go, bears!" Set the tone for the team and for other parents by helping your athlete shake off a mistake and get back in the game. This also applies to the car ride home after the game. If your child is upset about losing or making a mistake, remind him that any team can win on any day. It's certainly acceptable for your child to want to better his skills, but focusing completely on the negative or being angry with others is not a productive way to grow as an athlete.
Communicate With the CoachThere may be times when you disagree with the coach's decision or a play he called. It is not your place to call the coach after every game to recap the play-by-play. If there is a situation that is on-going, such as a teammate targeting your child or your child not getting any playing time, approach the coach in a calm fashion at an appropriate time. Ask to schedule a meeting with the coach and let him know what you want to discuss. Approach the coach in a respectful manner and ask for his opinion. You can certainly ask what you can do to support your athlete at home, particularly if the issue is your child's skills. Show the coach, and your child, that you want to be part of the team that supports the team! It is also important that your child communicates with the coach. If there is a conflict with the schedule or your child has a question about the team, encourage him to approach the coach himself. This shows his maturity and desire to make the most of his experience on the team.
Encourage Off-Season WorkoutsIt is important for all children to engage in healthy activities. It is necessary for student athletes to maintain their strength and skills in the off-season to avoid injury when they return to their sport. Make fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy protein a part of every meal. Most schools have a weight room that your child can take advantage of for free. Private instructors are available for most sports and some offer small group discounts. Check with your child's friends about taking semi-private lessons to enhance skills in the off-season. Encourage healthy habits by limiting TV time and making family walks or pick-up games routine.
Be a CheerleaderBe a visible supporter of your student athlete by attending as many games as possible. Seeing your face in the stands and hearing you yell her name will make your athlete feel really good. If work prevents you from being there, try and get a video of the game from the coach or another parent. Watch the game with your child and cheer her on- even if you know the final score. Your support means the world to your child and whether she is the star athlete or warming the bench, she will appreciate you cheering her on. You can also show your support by participating in fundraising events and other team activities. Many sports have a tradition of having a pasta dinner before a big game. Offer to host a dinner or contribute something to the meal.
The most important thing for you and your student athlete to remember is that participating in a sport should be enjoyable. Of course there are times of disappointment or discouragement, but your child's overall experience should be positive. You are your child's first and best teacher so supporting him through something he is passionate about will help him in all areas of his life.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.