Jeff Farris
Good performance starts with good goals.  Lou Holtz, one the of nation's most successful college football coaches, once said that "Of all my experiences in managing people, the power of goal setting is the most incredible."  He carried with him a book identifying personal, player and team goals and used these to motivate himself and his team. In Dr. Kenneth Blanchard's book, the One Minute Manager, he identifies three steps toward getting the most out of a group of people.  While written for a business audience, its lessons also apply to sports teams.  The book's three recommendations are:
  1. One Minute Goals - Goals are agreements between the coach and the individual players or the coach and the team on the desired accomplishments.  Three to five goals should be the limit with a good understanding of current and expected performance.
  2. One Minute Praisings - Immediate and specific positive feedback helps players know when they are doing something right and encourages them to keep doing it.
  3. One Minute Reprimands - If goals aren't being met, then players need quick corrections followed by a reaffirmation of the player's value and potential.
Goal setting works at any age level although the goals and the methods of communication may be very different.  Clear goals keep everyone focused and reviewing their progress.  If players can know they are improving, then they will continue working to accomplish their goals.
Jeff Farris
Just like children bring home homework that is beyond what a parent can help with, young athletes often progress beyond the abilities of a parent. If the problem is not addressed, young players' frustration at their own lack of progress may increase until the solution is to quit sports altogether. Fortunately, like in school, there are a variety of experts to help with almost every aspect of physical, skill and strategy development. Though parents may not be able to help directly, parents still have a large role to play in selecting and overseeing these experts. Whether a player is 5 or even 15 years old, parents should:
  1. Ask if their child wants help. Kids will apply themselves only if they are motivated to learn. Forcing instruction on a child with limited interest will have little benefit.
  2. Locate instructors who like instructing. Not all instructors have the same passion for teaching the same subject over and over. Only instructors who enjoy seeing another's progress can teach enthusiastically.
  3. Watch to determine if the instruction is organized. Spending time with a student is not the same as instructing. Parents should notice how the practice is organized and if the practice builds on previous lessons.
  4. Remain open to all areas of instruction. Sometimes, a problem is caused by a breakdown in a more fundamental area and won't improve until the fundamental issue is resolved.
  5. Expect results over time. One lesson is not going to make a major impact on a child's performance. If a child wants and enjoys the instruction and the instructor is enthusiastic and organized, then lessons will help over time though it may be weeks or months before results can be observed.
It is never too early or too late to consider expert help. Lessons, early on, can provide a level of confidence that lasts over a long period. In addition to helping the player, private instruction can also give parents valuable one-on-one feedback about their child's progress and insights into drills and activities that would be helpful at home. Teaching, whether in school or in sports, works best when parents respect the role of the educator but stay involved with monitoring progress and results.
Jeff Farris
A player's stomach can be a big factor going into a game or practice. What players put in their stomachs hours before a game can make a big difference in game time energy and performance. If, during a game, players find themselves:
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Experiencing muscle cramps
  • Getting nauseous
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Running out of energy
  • Playing at a lower level than previous games
Then, eating the right types of foods and at the right times may be factors. It takes time for the human body to convert food into energy, so a quick snack just before a game will have little impact. However, a healthy meal, eaten several hours before, may have a large impact on performance. Players should:
  • Eat a healthy meal 3-6 hours before a game.
  • Eat a light snack 1-2 hours before a game.
  • Drink plenty of water.
Players should avoid:
  • Foods or drinks with high sugar or caffeine content to avoid the energy highs and lows that follow.
  • Greasy or starchy foods (most fast food).
  • Foods or drinks that can make you nauseous such as citrus drinks or milk.
A little "stomach planning" before a game can have a big impact at the game. When a player is in the car on the way to a competition, it is just too late to prepare the body with the energy it will require.
Jeff Farris
For coaches, practice time is a precious opportunity to get players ready for the next game.  For players, practice is an opportunity to spend time with friends and doing what they like doing.  These are not the same goals. To get the most out of their players, coaches have to structure a practice that reaches a compromise between these different goals.  A little fun at the beginning and end of a practice can help kids perform their best when working on stamina or quickness drills in the middle.  Coaches should consider turning some drills into quick competitions among groups of players to help build team chemistry and fun, such as relay races instead of simply running or skating. Dave Tippett, head coach for the Dallas Stars, believes that the best practice from a child's point of view is a scrimmage.  "Kids want to play.  I do the same thing with the Dallas Stars.  At the end of a practice, I'll drop two pucks in the middle of the ice and just let them play." Fun is important at all ages and getting the most from players involves using their personal motivations to accomplish the team goals.  Practice fun goes a long way to building a winning team and makes participation more enjoyable for everyone.
Jeff Farris
Parents are comfortable giving instructions to their child and this comfort naturally spills over into athletic competitions. However, when it comes to game time instruction, coaches, league staff, officials and sports psychologists all have one word of advice - DON'T! 

Although it seems like a good idea to yell "pass" or "hustle" from the sidelines, studies show that these instructions cause more distraction than help. These instructions interfere with coach-to-player and player-to-player communications and, more importantly, interfere with children's ability to learn to think for themselves. 

Kids are going to make mistakes while playing sports. But professional athletes do too. Michael Jordan missed three times as many game winning shots as he made and Joe Montana completed only about half of his pass attempts. Kids still learning their sport aren't going to perform any better and there are many more games ahead in which to improve. 

So what can parents do along the sidelines? The answer is cheering and not much else. Parents must let their kids play the game for themselves and develop their own experiences working with peers and coaches. If children make mistakes, learning to deal with those mistakes with their teammates and coaches is just part of the process of growing into an better adult.
Jeff Farris
Jan 23 2003
Team leaders are not just those designated as team captain. All players can provide leadership by what they say and what they do. These players not only want to see their own play improve but that of their teammates as well. Leadership is shown in different ways including:

  • Reaching out and making friends on the team

  • Complimenting other players when they play well

  • Encouraging other players when they make mistakes

  • Encouraging teammates even when the team is behind on the scoreboard

  • Demonstrating hard work

  • Never throwing a fit when things don't go right

  • Listening to coaches

  • Helping other players on the team to play better

Coaches need players to help provide leadership to the team and set a positive example for other players.
Jeff Farris
Just like kids need to improve physical skills, they also need a better understanding of how a team works together. In their initial efforts, kids often attempt to imitate what they see in a professional game, such as a dodging move to the basket, a breakaway or an open field run. What kids often fail to understand is how the pros work together as a team to create those memorable moments.

When kids imitate the pros, their play often looks like "hot-dogging" or selfish play to coaches and moments of brilliance to parents. Coaches have to help young kids (and parents) see the bigger picture of how teams work together to score or defend and this comes from helping them understand positioning.

Each position has different requirements and just as it is okay to use practice time for drills, it is also okay to use practice time to explain. For younger kids, these explanation sessions are best kept short and intermixed with physical activity. But as kids get older and can sit still longer, a practice conducted in front of a white board can also make sense.

With a little pre-game planning, coaches should look at assigning positions in advance of a game and give the players a chance to anticipate the responsibilities. Advance assignment also gives the players time to talk these responsibilities over with their parents for a better understanding. If some parents don"t have a good understanding of the sport, coaches can recommend books and websites to help them better help their child.

A team that is positionally solid is hard to beat and coaches should not worry about wasting field, court or ice time with conversations.
Jeff Farris
It is well understood that youth sports is a team effort, but that team isn't just limited just to the players and the coach. Parents have much to offer their young athlete no matter the amount of their prior experience. The team works best when it works together to solve problems and has reasonable expectations. One way to help the team work together is to avoid five questions that parents sometimes ask of their child:
  • Don't ask your child to play on a team without their friends. - For kids, being around their friends is an important part of youth sports. Kids routinely make their sports decisions based on where their friends are playing. The more friends a child has on a team, the more likely they are to try hard. Alternatively, if a child has few friends on the team, a parent can often help by hosting or sponsoring a team party to enable their child to get to know the other players better.

  • Don't ask your child to play the same sport year round. - Just like kids need to play different positions to develop their mental understanding of the game, they also need to play multiple sports to develop their overall physical capabilities. Encouraging a variety of sports over different seasons keeps things interesting for the child and helps them develop physically to their fullest potential.

  • Don't ask your child to feel grateful for your taking them to practice. - Youth sports works best when it is a family effort rather than just a child effort. Practice and game times are opportunities to share as well as opportunities for play. Watching and supporting practice time is just as valuable to a child as watching and supporting a game and should be mutually rewarding for both parent and child.

  • Don't ask your child to exercise if you won't. - At any age, a healthy lifestyle involves regular physical exercise. While playing sports, kids (especially older kids) often need to exercise away from practice to develop stamina, quickness or strength. If parents want to encourage this exercise, the best way is by sharing the experience rather than just measuring the experience.

  • Don't ask your child to understand the game if you don't. - Young players getting started in a sport often get discouraged early because they don't have a clear understanding of their role. Parents can help their child tremendously by helping them understand the basics of the game and working with them on drills. There are numerous books in every sport designed to educate new players and spectators. Parents should utilize these resources to improve the chances of a youth sports success.
Just like adults, kids desire time with their friends, seek a variety of experiences, appreciate the interest of others, like sharing difficult tasks and want someone to share conversation. Parents and kids have more in common than they think but have different ways of expressing it. By coming together as a team, parents and children can improve the experience for everyone.
Jeff Farris
Every year, 20 million children register for hockey, football, baseball, soccer, and other competitive sports. If you're the parent of one of those young sports enthusiasts, like most people, you want to be a good parent. The "don'ts" are clear - no fighting with the other parents, no attacking the coaches, no screaming at the kids. The "do's" are a little less clear and sometimes parents, attempting to do good, are the biggest impediment to a successful season. 

According to the National Alliance for Sports, of the 20 million kids who sign up, 70 percent quit playing league sports by the age of 13 and never play again. The media points to enraged parents and bad sportsmanship as the biggest problem in youth sports. But, obviously, 70 percent of these kids' parents aren't assaulting each other or attacking the referees. So, there must be other reasons why kids drop out of sports. In many cases, it's the well-intentioned moms and dads that take the fun out of sports for their young athletes. 

A Michigan State University survey looked closely at why kids play sports. The survey of 10,000 children, grades 7 - 12, found that the most important reason kids cited as to why they to play was to have fun. This was followed by to improve my skills, and to stay in shape. Winning (much to the surprise of many adults) was 10th on the list. The same survey also looked at why children stopped playing sports. I was not having fun, I lost interest and it took too much time were top of the list. 

For most children, a successful game is one in which they had fun, didn't embarrass themselves and got a great snack afterward. Of course, nobody really likes to lose. But parents need to understand that winning doesn't automatically mean their child is happy, either. Parents, don't realize how important their attitude is in keeping kids on the right athletic track. 

The secret, most experts agree, is to be an involved and conscientious sports parent, walking that fine line between being overly demanding or too nurturing. As any parent knows, you can encourage your young star to work harder, play smarter and be better. But push too hard and you'll create a resentful and reluctant player who loses all interest in sports. On the other hand, parents must realize that indiscriminate praise does not build self-esteem; it simply creates children who cannot distinguish between poor and real effort. 

So how can you be a good sports parent? Start by following these basic rules:
  • Know and respect your coach. Most youth coaches are under- or unpaid. Many are volunteers who invest an enormous effort in your child's athletic activities. Take the time to talk to your coach, understand their coaching style and find out how you can help. Understand that winning is a nice by-product of good coaching but by no means is it the only goal. Working with your coach will help make the season much more enjoyable. Treating coaches with respect will make them more receptive to your questions and concerns.
  • Listen to your child. Talk to you child about what happens at practice and at games, not just about the wins and loses. Carefully listen to what they say about their own performance or that of their teammates and coaches. If your young player is upset about a bad game, help them figure out what went wrong—don't just give them a list of all the problems you saw or gloss it over with empty praise. Help them find a better strategy for the next time or set aside practice time away from the team.
  • Remember context. Everyone has off days, including your child and your child's coach. One bad incident should not cloud your opinions for the rest of the season. Rather, look at the event in the context of the whole season. Ask yourself if the event is an isolated occurrence. If so, move on and focus on the positive.
  • Encourage effort and reward hard work. One of the most valuable lessons that sports can teach our children is that hard work and team effort can bring great rewards. Good sports parents help their children see that a valiant effort can be just as important as winning.
  • Practice good sportsmanship in the stands. A girl's soccer league in Ohio instituted "Silent Sunday" to eliminate spectator cheers and jeers and sideline distractions. The experiment was wildly successful and a sad commentary on parents. Instead of being forced into silence in the stands, use your own conduct to teach your child that gracious winning and losing; not annihilating the other team, builds character.
  • Don't create divided loyalties. Disagreeing with coaching decisions in front of your child may make you think that you are sticking up for your player. In reality, it simply sends your child confusing messages as to who is in charge. By dividing his or her loyalty, you make it that much harder for your child to listen to the coach and be part of a team. Instead, voice your concerns to the coach in private. If you have grave concerns about the coaching, talk to the head of your sports organization. But keep your child out of it.
  • Check your own ego at the door. For many parents, the end result (winning) seems to matter more than the process (becoming better athletes, enjoying physical activity and learning how to play as part of a team). You may thrive on competition but always remember that it's your child who's playing, not you. And their accomplishments (and failures) are just that—their own. Support your child, cheer your child and encourage your child but don't confuse what you want with what's best for your child.
Following these steps won't guarantee a parent the next sports legend. However, these steps can take something that kids want to do (play sports) and turn it into something that parents want for their kids (healthy living and life lessons). Remember, the goal of youth sports isn't about building a career, it's about building a life. 

Written by: Laura Langendorf
Jeff Farris
Youth sports can be an emotional experience. The physical activity of the kids can often spill onto the sidelines and into the stands and create strong reactions in coaches and parents. 

For parents, it is important to separate their child's sports development from game emotions. For this reason, many leagues and coaches have adopted the "24 Hour Rule" which simply states that coaches will not discuss a game or situation until at least 24 hours after the fact. This important rule does two things. First, it moves the discussion away from the presence of the players. Second, it allows all parties to have time to put things in perspective and "cool off", if necessary. 

If parents will respect the 24 hour rule, their concerns are more likely to be fully addressed in reasoned discussion. More importantly, the kids' enjoyment of a game won't be marred by an ill-timed confrontation.