You know what is hard? Sitting on the sidelines

I like to think that I am open-minded. I can roll with the punches. Take it on the chin. But, when it comes to my children, when I see one of my children hurting, I go all mama bear. I don’t want my children to be hurt…either emotionally or physically.

From time to time, my husband and I disagree on issues pertaining to the kids, but for the most part we are in agreement. On one issue, there was no question on where we stood. No gray area. Absolutely nothing wishy washy in our decision making process. We both agreed on no contact sports. No football. No ice hockey. No sports where a child could get seriously injured. Period.

All was well in our little corner of the worlduntil my large-for-his age son asked to play football a year or so ago. We put him off. He brought up the issue in the spring. He begged us to let him play football. Our first reaction was a resounding “No!” But, he persisted. He wouldn’t be placated by discussions about playing soccer or any other sport.

My husband and I agreed…reluctantly…to let him play flag football. Until, we found that in our county flag football is only for 5- and 6-year-old boys. We took a leap of faith. We weighed his obvious enthusiasm against the potential dangers of playing football. We explained to him that he would have to play safe all the time, follow the coaches’ rules, and take the game seriously. No exceptions. We spoke to other parents with kids in this league. All who we spoke to said that the league and its coaches put safety first. The deciding factor was that my son is tall and large for his age. At 3, he was mistaken for a 5-year-old.

The fall season began in August with tryouts. My son played hard. He would pour his water bottle so that the water gushed through the holes in his helmet. It was hot. I made sure he was hydrated. Within in a few weeks, he was explaining the rules of the game with the gravitas of an adult. He knew football. He not only knew what his position did in the game, but what all the other positions did. He sat eagerly on the sidelines waiting to go in.

And that was the problem… In our football league, if your kid is not on the “A” team, your kid spends most of his time on the sidelines. It took me a few weeks to see that my son was not sidelined due to inexperience, in fact when he was allowed on the field he played his position well. No, he was sidelined because he wasn’t in the elite, the clique, the A team.

My son’s previous sports experienceswere positive. All players on his soccer, t-ball, lacrosse, and even basketball teams played equal amounts of time. Why was football so different? As the weeks passed, I watched my son get more and more frustrated with not being able to play. I paid the same amount of money in registration and uniform/equipment fees as the parent of one of the kids on the A team, so why was my son benched?

As concerned parents, we did what we do in situations where our children are having difficulties. Whether in school, religious education classes, Brownies, or sports, if our children are having problems, we take action. The actions we took did not always go over well. I soon noticed that many parents had a “the coach knows best” approach. I was left scratching my head after many conversations with parents on the sidelines. I’m unaccustomed to sitting by as my child is marginalized.

Sports season not going well? Here’s what you can do to salvage a sport season or activity:

  • Talk to your child about the issue. Ask him what bothers him. Chances are good that if the issue is serious he and you will be on the same page. If you are upset with an issue of coaching, but your child is unaware of the issue, take a second look. You might be overreacting.
  • Talk to your spouse. Get on the same page. You are much stronger if you are a united front when approaching leaders or coaches.
  • Find a kindred parent on the team. Perhaps, another player is not getting to play or another kid is not enjoying Brownies. Strike up conversations to find out if your concerns are off base or right on target. This new found ally may not be willing to go to bat for you, but she will at least understand what you are going through.
  • Make contact with the coach or leader. If you haven’t introduced yourself, now is the time to start a conversation about your child. Many times coaches are directing large teams. The coach may not know exactly who your daughter is, so sprinkle the conversation with anecdotes about your kid…funny stories…emphasize how much your child enjoys playing. Let the troop leader put a face to your child’s name. Give it a day or two before approaching the coach with your issues.
  • Find out what the best method for communication is. You could talk to the coach before or after practice. If you don’t see the coach engaging in conversations at practice, consider alternatives: email, phone call, schedule a meeting, or even send a letter
  • Keep your conversation to the point. If you have 18 issues with how the last Brownie meeting was handled, narrow your list down to the 2 or 3 issues that most directly impact your child. It is better to broach one strong, well-thought issue to the coach, rather than a bunch of weaker issues.
  • Keep the conversation as unemotional as possible. Yes, you are upset at the way your child was treated, but check your emotions at the door. If you get flustered when agitated, write down what you want to say to your child’s activity leader. Bring a notepad to your meeting. Stick to your topic. Don’t stray in to other areas.
  • Give the coach/leader time to answer your questions. In other words, take a breath! The vast majority of people involved with youth sports sincerely want what is best for kids. Listen to any concerns that the leader may have. Perhaps, your kid is a little rambunctious in meetings. Maybe your child is the ringleader for shenanigans.
  • Ask the coach for suggestions for how to resolve the issue. Chances are good that the leader has encountered this issue before and will know what works and what doesn’t.
  • If the response you get from the coach is “Deal with it” or “This is how playing time works in football,” breathe. Taking a deep breath is a good idea…trust me. You can pat yourself on the back that you advocated for your child even if the outcome wasn’t what you had hoped for.
  • Post season… after the season ends, consider being honest in any anonymous surveys sent to parents. Voicing your opinion in a survey may be the catalyst for change…you never know. Or, you can write to the district leader of the activity or the league commissioner with your concerns.