By Guest Blogger Michelle Barson

Your child is ready to play sports. They’ve got the energy, the time and the interest.  They even know what sport(s) interest them.  Whether you have already chosen a program for the upcoming season or are looking to try a new one you should know that programs differ in what they offer as part of the price and their vision for youth sports.  Knowing this in advance may help you to manage your expectations of the upcoming season or provide some guidance prior to choosing a program.

Recreational or Competitive

Programs differ in their competitiveness.  Talk to your child about what their hopes are when playing. Do they hope to one day make a middle school, high school or college team? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, do they just want to get out and play with their friends or meet new people?  Also, know your comfort level.  Do you think your child is ready for a competitive environment or do you think they will thrive in a recreational one?  Even recreational sports have an element of competitiveness. It’s just a matter of how competitive – not if it is competitive.

fhKnow Your Coach

Do you want your child to have a coach that is paid to lead the team or one that is a volunteer from the community or has a child on the team? People often assume that paid coaches mean it’s a better program – that is not always the case. If a higher quality coach is what you’re looking for and you’re leaning toward a program with paid coaches, here are some questions to ask:

  • What training have you received?
  • What is your experience as a coach or player – at what levels, where and for how long?
  • What is your coaching style?
  • What type of accessibility will you have outside of practices and games?

If you choose a program with volunteer coaches your experience may differ from others in the same program and from year to year. Some volunteer coaches are just looking to spend more time with their own children and have fun. Others may know the sport really well and play (or have played) in high school, college or even at a professional level.  The important questions to ask here are not of the coach, but of the program director. These questions should include:

  • Have your coaches received a background check?
  • What type of leadership training have your coaches received, if any?
  • What type of sport-specific training have your coaches received, if any?
  • Who can I contact if I have an issue with a coach, parent or referee?

Bringing Your A Game

Nearly all programs want their parents to feel part of the team.  Be open to taking an active part in your child’s sport experience.  Perhaps, you can try coaching or assistant coaching.  Offer to carpool if other parents have issues getting their child to practices or games. Assist with fundraising activities or creating a snack schedule.  Your child will love sharing this experience with you and it will make the season a more enjoyable one for all involved.

Additional Questions to Ask

  • What is the price of the league? If needed, is there any financial aid available?
  • What equipment will I need to provide my child with? What equipment is there to borrow if we cannot afford them?
  • How many practices and how many games are there each season?
  • What all will my child receive as part of the experience? (i.e. jersey, trophy, etc.)
  • Where will practices and games be held?
    • What are the expectations of game day travel?
  • Can we pick our practice day and time?
  • Can my children play with their friends? If not, what is the team assignment process (random, drafted, etc.)

In addition to leagues, there are clinics, academies, skills sessions and sport-specific camps.  These are great ways to introduce your child to a new sport, enhance existing skills in their favorite sport or just continue developing an interest in athletic activities.

Now the Worst Part

You need to hear it though.  Your child will most likely NOT be a professional athlete. They will most likely not play in college and there’s a chance they won’t even make the high school team.  Invest in their athletic endeavors – financially and emotionally – knowing this in advance.  If playing sports is something they stop enjoying then it’s time to find another physical outlet.

That actually isn’t the worst part.  The worst part is that the parents typically ruin the fun. Don’t play politics with your child’s hobbies or passions.  Don’t care what YOUR friends think about your child’s athletic ability.  And, please don’t worry about the score.  You shouldn’t care.  You should go as a fan – a personal, psycho-stalking fan of your own child. Cheer them on.  Ask how you can help make the experience more fun.  Avoid live streaming them on Facebook and instead be there in the moment with them.

Youth sports have so many great lessons to teach outside of how to hit, kick or shoot a ball.  Participating in youth sports, at any level and for any amount of time, should work to:

  • Create a fan for life
  • Build a love for athletic activity that helps to keep them healthy throughout their own lives
  • Introduce them to new friends
  • Give them a safe place to have fun
  • Teach them how to be part of a team and to follow instructions
  • Win with dignity and lose with grace

What other advice can you offer on this subject? Is there something else you experienced that other parents should know about? For a list of sports programs throughout the Triad, click HERE to see TMoM’s Youth Sports Program Directory.

*Photo Credits: NC Triad Field Hockey Club and the YMCA of NWNC