We are all excited to see our kids return to the courts, fields, and rinks. Returning to favorite sports is a welcome sign of normalcy after a singularly unusual year. As a parent of four young athletes and a long-time youth coach, here are nine tips to keep in mind as you pull on the team colors and return to the sidelines.
1. No Performance Expectations - We have been away from sports, in most cases, for over a year. This gap is a significant portion of their sports career and may encompass big developmental milestones. Just as we see corporate America foregoing job performance rankings, let's give our kids some space to readjust without comparisons to other athletes or past performance.
2. Resetting Baseline - If your kid could reliably hit a home run or score a goal from midfield pre-pandemic, they may not be able to do so this week. Between time off sports, varied levels of conditioning (remember the average American adult gained 28 pounds this past year), and likely whole new body mechanics from a year of growth, all of their muscle memory is off. They need time and patience to ramp up their performance to a new normal. Pressure to resume their former level of play may lead to injuries and frustration. Now is a time of grace.
3. Social Exhaustion is Real - When returning to school and sports, my kids’ first comment was that there were so many “little conversations” and “they are exhausting”. We all know small talk can be tiresome and we are all desperately out of practice. Acknowledge the weariness and allow them alone time to reset.
4. Anxiety is Also Real - Whether it is performance anxiety (see tip #1), social anxiety, or fear of COVID-19, kids are reporting higher levels of anxiety. There is no magic potion to fix anxiety. Make space for it, let your kids talk about it. Allow them to set the pace.
5. Patience with Restrictions - State by state, county by county, venue by venue, the restrictions vary. For my kids’ first game back, we were not allowed on the field and watched through our camera lens from a bluff 50 yards away. Yes, this was frustrating. Yet, I know that everyone involved is working hard to do their best to keep kids and communities safe. Please give everyone making these decisions - public health officials, venue owners, coaches, and beyond the benefit of the doubt.
6. Body Language - Let’s face it, masks hide much of our emotions. Masks are likely reality for the foreseeable future. Pay careful attention to your body language and make sure your body conveys your love, pride, and joy.
7. Masks - They also muffle what we do say. Let’s take this moment to remind ourselves to let coaches coach and parents cheer (see tip #6).
8. Social Responsibility - Our social consciousness has been raised in the last year by the Black Lives Matter movement, Stop Asian Hate movement, Trans Visibility Day, and more. As a respected adult, please lead by example in all of our game interactions. Use language and body language that shows respect for everyone.
9. I Love To Watch You Play - To me, this is the tagline of Positive Coaching Alliance. It has never been more important to express simple joy in your child’s love of the game. Make sure at the end of the next game, and every game, to tell your child “I love to watch you play.”
I hope to see you on the field.