Reflecting on priorities of family & work

Should We Ban ALL Parents from Youth Sports?

no_parentsThis seems like a preposterous question. It was to me the first time I read it. Like most parents I know, I love to attend my kids sporting events and believe I have a “healthy” relationship with my kids and their sports. I don’t scream at them or their coaches, I try (hard) not to coach from the sidelines and only provide encouragement (my daughter says she never hears us anyway), and work with them to foster sportsmanship, teamwork, and fair play. So, I initially dismissed this headline – until I read who made the statement – on PBS NewsHour no less.

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors having written two books that have deeply impacted my view of work and family – Drive and To Sell is Human. He is the host of one mine and my kid’s favorite tv shows, “Crowd Control“. What I appreciate about Pink’s books, articles, and TV shows is that he uses his research background in motivational psychology to demonstrate how to change your own and other people’s behaviors through positive feedback and by tapping into the competitive nature of human beings. Here’s the video:

This sub-four minute video has not persuaded me to ban ALL parents from youth sports, but he does make compelling, research-based arguments to consider.

  1. When kids look to us on the sideline for approval or consolation, they miss key aspects and benefits of the game. It’s about working together with other kids – not about looking over at their parents.
  2. Many of the lessons of youth sports are lost on our kids when we guide the processes of reflection, perseverance, et. al that we often do post-game. Kids would do this naturally without us and our being on the sidelines inhibits their meta-cognition and stands in the way of their freedom.
  3. Organized sports kill creativity (so does school: watch this TED Talk); pick-up sports enhance creativity. Parents involvement in organized sports contributes to them killing creativity.

Well, I’m intrigued, but not convinced. Here are my counterpoints:

  1. Let’s start with the implausibility of the proposal to ban parents from all youth sports. There is no way, in this generation, that a proposal would pass to ban parents from youth sports. As Pink highlights, this is part of our identity as parents and I don’t think that is a bad thing. After all, a positive identity as involved parents can only help our kids in the long run and being involved at a healthy level is much better for our kids than not being involved at all.
  2. Since we are not going to ban parents from youth sports, my kids would be confused and disappointed if my wife and I were not regularly at their sporting events and all of the other kids’ parents were. That would do more harm than good.
  3. Pink looks at youth sports in isolation to the totality of experiences for kids. Whether or not the sports are organized or pick-up games, whether or not parents are there are not, youth sports are just a piece of what helps kids develop into well-adjusted, confident children who can transition into young adulthood and eventually live on their own as productive citizens in our society. Other things include school (obviously), community involvement, visual and performing arts, home-life, friends, summer camps, other after school activities, and on and on… We should not be relying on youth sports alone to impart the specific lessons Pink highlights to our kids.

As parents, we need to take a holistic view of child-rearing that encompasses all aspects of our kids experiences as they grow up. As with youth sports, we do not expect our kids’ school to impart all of their academic, behavioral, and non-cognitive skills and view these other opportunities and our role as parents to help complete the puzzle. Part of the job of a clinical researcher is to isolate variables, which Pink has done with youth sports. Part of our job as parents is to examine all of the variables.

I look forward to continuing to read Dan Pink and appreciate how he has pushed my thinking yet again. While I do not completely agree with his assertions, they do give me pause and add meaningfully to my perspective.

4 comments on “Should We Ban ALL Parents from Youth Sports?

  1. Mike Turner
    July 11, 2015

    Another addition to the “Pro” column would be that banning parents would eliminate the overzealous parents who are not only yelling at their kids, but at the refs, other kids, coaches, etc. As a former basketball coach, I was often the target of parental yelling about my coaching, their kid’s ability, playing time, and other kids on the team. Appeasing and handling parents became an increasingly burdensome part of the job. More than once I had to ask parents to leave the gym at both home and away games. Even though I coached at the high school level, I know we can all agree the behavior exists at the 3 year olds’ soccer games and just gets worse over time.


    • DadWorking
      July 11, 2015

      I had a whole rant on that topic, Mike, but thought it would detract from the rest of the piece. It’s a much larger problem in youth sports and one that has been covered fairly extensively.


  2. Karrick Dyer
    October 28, 2015

    A great moment of enlightenment for me as a parent of three kids heavily involved in sports (and myself previously heavily involved in coaching) came at my daughters club soccer game that was deemed a “silent game”. Coaches and parents alike were expected to remain silent. The only chatter was among u10 girls. I’m pretty sure it was the most enjoyable and valuable game of the season for the players. While our kids do find assurance in our presence, our “input” is often harmful. Kids playing to please or win approval of parents……….become miserable.


    • DadWorking
      October 28, 2015

      Thanks so much for commenting. I have to constantly check myself at my daughter’s soccer games – also used to being the coach. I also have to check myself in not over-analyzing the game afterward. Some of the most rewarding times we get together are watching soccer on tv and getting to discuss it. I’m just glad she likes watching it (women’s soccer that is).

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on July 10, 2015 by in Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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