Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Game Plan for Mom and Dad

Parents – A Game Plan for Mom and Dad
By Ed Shilling
“Guidelines, do's and don’ts for parents who want to effectively assume their role in helping their child to have the best athletic experience he or she can possibly have.”

At Champions Academy we are on a constant quest to help prepare our basketball players for the challenges that they will face in their coming games. However, it is not just the players who need to be prepared; parents of athletes in all sports need to strive to do their best throughout the seasons of their child’s career. The parents that we work with normally have a passion to help their son or daughter perform at the highest level on and off the court. It is my desire, by way of this article, to “coach” you the parent, to maximize your impact, influence and enjoyment during the season. These years have the potential to be the best years ever, if you can better understand what goes on in the heart and mind of your child’s coach, know how to effectively communicate with your athlete, as well as realize the fact that you are a public figure and that this is a potentially glorious time of building a richer lifelong relationship with your son or daughter.

What coaches would like parents to know and understand.

Having coached at the high school, college and professional levels of basketball during a 17 year coaching career and also being the son of a coach, I have spent my entire life around coaches. It is my belief that coaches would like parents to know a few things about them and the jobs they do. To begin with, coaches make their decisions based on winning, first and foremost—not on whom they like or dislike. No coach wants to lose! In fact, their job depends on winning. Several times in my career I started and played players with whom I had virtually nothing in common, and, honestly, I didn’t appreciate their lifestyles and apparent priorities. None-the-less, they were among the best on my team and consequently played absolutely as much as their performance earned. Apart from discipline and violation of team rules and things of this nature, no coach that I have met kept a player on the bench because he didn’t like him, if that player could help him win. Please, understand that coaches don’t get into the profession to cheat your son or daughter. Most of the time, coaches decide to get into coaching in an attempt to positively impact lives, not to hurt or destroy them.

The next thing I believe coaches would want you to understand is that playing time and style of play are determined after careful evaluation of numerous practices and countless hours of watching film and contemplation. Parents and fans do not see the total picture. For example, the last two minutes of a lopsided game when a player comes off the bench and hits back to back three-pointers is not normally a true indicator of the player’s skill—he probably has proven his lack of skill throughout many shooting drills and scrimmages, hence the sparse playing time.

Also, sometimes the best team in basketball is not the five most talented players. Team chemistry, role playing, specific match-ups and game plans often determines the five players who are on the court. We need only to look at the past Olympic and World Championship basketball competitions to prove that the five most talented players do not always make the best “team”. Just because your son or daughter can beat one of the starters one-on-one doesn’t mean he or she should be starting. A coach considers many things relative to who gets on the court. The legendary, Hall of Fame coach, John Wooden played the players who he thought “worked best within HIS idea of the team concept”. Obviously, coaches use both tangible and intangible criteria to determine playing time. Intangible criteria would include things like coachability, hustle, attitude, punctuality, work ethic, commitment and attention to detail. These intangibles are certainly factors in coaching decisions.

It is vital to understand that parents like it or not, cannot be truly objective in evaluation of their son or daughter’s ability and performance. Even my dad, a former college head coach, couldn’t accurately see my weaknesses; neither can I see clearly my children’s flaws. Parents love their children and look through the lens of what is best for the son or daughter vs. the coaches’ lens which sees the players as for what is best for the team. Wooden frequently assured the players and parents of those he recruited that “he ALWAYS acted in the best interest of the team.”

Effective and healthy parent-child communication

The second concept that I believe impacts the athletic experience is the parent’s ability to effectively communicate with their child. The most important thing you need to communicate to your child, especially right after a game, is unconditional love. There are plenty of critics out there. In fact, immediately after the game the coach critiques the team and some individual players in the locker room. The fans give constant feedback on your son or daughter’s play by way of applause, boos, or perhaps non-verbal expression. The media will also grant unsolicited critiques of your child for thousands of others to hear or read. Your child needs to know that you love him or her regardless of the performance. This unconditional love will positively impact your child more than any clever, insightful critique you might convey.

As a parent, however, you do have an important evaluative critique to lend to your child. This critique is in the area of his or her behavior and attitude during the game. Many times a coaching staff will be so into the game that they will not see you child’s attitude when he or she was taken out of the game, or a trash talking burst away from the live play or a disrespectful response to an official. You have a role and a responsibility to help your child be respectful and sportsmanlike in his or her actions and behavior. If your child doesn’t pay attention during time-outs or plays around on the bench, you most certainly need to make this correction!

While you have a job to do regarding your son or daughter’s attitude and behavior, you need to understand that you truly have great potential to destroy a team’s morale by your words to your child away from the gym. Any words spoken negatively about the coach will most certainly impact your son or daughter. Whether you realize it or not, you have a position of great influence on your child. If you say the coach is “no good” or that he made an awful decision or that he is cheating your child, etc., that will stick with your son or daughter and will instill disrespect and hinder your son or daughter’s coachability and enthusiasm. Have you ever walked into a room where someone was talking behind your back? You may not have heard a single word spoken, but deep down you knew that they were talking about you. When you speak negatively about the coach a negative climate or spirit is similarly created.. The coach may not know exactly what is going on, but he’ll feel something isn’t right and in the end your child will suffer. If you care about your child, you must NOT speak negatively about the coach, especially to your child. A player being able to trust the coach and the coach being able to trust the player is an overlooked, yet significant factor in a successful season—negative words destroy the element of player-coach trust.

This concept applies to your words about the other players on the team. If you are derogatory about another player on your child’s team, you can bet that your son or daughter will speak of that player in the same manner. It is one thing to say that so and so didn’t shoot well or that he didn’t play as well as normal, it is another to say that he is awful and shouldn’t be playing.

Every season provides many “teachable moments” for parents.

It is true that a parent needs to strongly support the decisions of the coach and not lend “coaching” from the stands, but there is an area that a parent needs to “coach” and that is in the area of teaching life skills. Regardless if the events in the season are good or bad, can be excellent “teachable moments” for a parent that is looking at the big picture. If your child is on the bench and is only playing a few minutes, you need to teach him the concept of finding a way to contribute to the team by working hard in practice, cheering on the team during games, staying focused during the game so as to be prepared if and when his chance comes. Everything that happens during a season can help prepare your child for potential situations in the game of life. For example, if the coach happens to be a “yeller”, well, your child may have a boss that communicates in the same way, and you can prepare him/her to listen to what is said not how it is said. Or, if the team is losing and your child feels like giving up, you can to teach him or her that they may be in a marriage someday that is not going well, but if they will keep trying and working, things can turn around. You as a parent hold an important job in helping your child grow and mature and the season can give you tremendous, practical, teaching tools-- if you will constantly be aware of the bigger picture. Remember, this quote from my Hall of Fame football coach (and father-in-law), Dick Dullaghan, “It is not what you get for playing, but what you become because you played that is most important.”

The parents of an athlete are really public figures

The third major concept for you to keep in mind as a parent of an athlete is that you are a public figure. In my years as a college basketball recruiter, I would often go into high school gyms, invariably, someone would ask me who I was there to recruit. After I would tell them, they would almost always point out to me who and where the parents of the person I was recruiting were sitting. The majority, if not everybody, knows who the parents of the players are. With this in mind, you will not only be known by the general public, but you will also be perceived as an expert on the issues surrounding the team. Anything that you say in the stands or around town will be taken as the truth and will be repeated with your name attached for credibility. If you bash the coach or even quietly agree with someone criticizing the coach, you can be pretty confident that it will make its way back to the coach. Further, your non-verbal expressions in the stands will be observed by those who are around you. If you throw up your hands when another player misses a jump shot or turns the ball over, know that that person’s parents and friends will see it. Self-control is a big challenge for you during games to be sure.

Also, you need to resist the temptation to respond to the negative comments made in the stands. Often the mean and nasty comments are spoken out of jealousy or ignorance. If you respond, you risk causing a scene. Having coached in the NBA, at the high major D1 level and also at the high school level, I know that anything involving family members before or during a game will negatively impact the player. I strongly suggest that you act like you didn’t hear the negative comments or get up and move seats, but don’t let your son or daughter catch you in an argument.

As I mentioned, I have been in countless gyms as a neutral observer and have seen some ridiculous actions performed by normally sane parents. If you could see how foolish you look screaming at the officials for a call (that many times really wasn’t that bad), you wouldn’t do it. Yelling at the refs honestly doesn’t help your cause and some times actually hurts your child and the team. At times, I would watch a parent of a kid I was recruiting make a fool of him or herself and wonder if I really wanted to deal with that parent for four years. Additionally, by yelling at the refs you give your son or daughter an excuse for not playing his or her best.

On the positive side, as a parent you have an opportunity to support the other players and to be a witness of unselfishness and sincere care for the team. When a parent supported the team regardless of how much his/her child played or how well the team was playing, it made a tremendous statement to the coaching staff and other parents. I have seen it the other way. For example, a parent travels to every game and is very enthusiastic, etc., but as soon their son or daughter’s minutes get cut or he/she gets injured and can’t play, the parent is nowhere to be seen. This sends a message to the other parents and the players that it was all about their kid, not the team. If you want to contribute to the program, then it has to be about the team, not just about you and your son or daughter. By the way, the spouse of the coach does not need to be the object of your dirty looks nor should she (he) be rudely ignored. The spouse does not control your son or daughter’s playing time nor does she (he) coach your son. Being mean to her (or him) is not only ridiculous but also shows a total lack of class. It is easy to lose your mind when it comes to your child and go after people who really have no intent to harm your child.

A tremendous time to enrich the parent-child relationship

The final point which I want to make is for you to enjoy this “season of life” with your child. Try to make this time special, for it ends so quickly. Every step up the ladder—from elementary to jr. high/middle school to high school to college to professional eliminates thousands and thousands of players would like to be on the team, but get cut. Be grateful that your son or daughter has a spot on the team, regardless of how good he or she might be. It is so important to the athlete that you are at his/her games—far more important than he or she might let on. You should see how the players fight for and make sure their parents have tickets for the games at the college level. Personally I know how good it felt to have my mom and/or dad at the games. If we lost or I played poorly, it was so comforting to see a caring face. The old saying applies—“family multiplies the joys and divides the sorrows”. Take every opportunity to help multiply the joy of the athletic experience and divide your child’s sorrows through it.

Finally, don’t let playing time, losses, or difficult moments steal the joy of being actively involved in supporting your son or daughter. When I played basketball at Miami University, one of my teammate’s dads exemplified this concept of enjoying the experience and it not only blessed his son but all of us on the team. My teammate, Jeff Fuerst, sometimes started and sometimes didn’t even get in the game during our freshman year. For some parents this would have caused them to be angry with the coach (“How could my son play so well last game and not even play this game?!), not Jeff’s dad—he was upbeat, supportive and positive to Jeff, the coaches and the rest of the guys on the team regardless of how or if Jeff played. I honestly looked forward to seeing Mr. Fuerst at the games that he could attend. Jeff’s dad lived in Chicago which was quite a drive to Oxford, Ohio, but when he couldn’t make the weekday games, he would drive around Chicago until he could get to a place that the game tuned in on his car radio through the static. Let me tell you, Mr. Fuerst made the most of the experience and consequently helped his son maximize the joy of being part of a basketball team.

My hope and prayer for you and your son or daughter is that you will cherish the opportunity to experience this season of life together. This season won’t last long, so make it the best it can possibly be.

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