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What kids can teach us about fair play

Published: Sun, September 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.

The National Football League, in partnership with the National PTA, is sponsoring "Fair Play Day" (www.fairplayday) on Oct. 1.

The purpose of this day, according to Scott Lancaster, senior director of youth football development for the NFL, is to "give the game back to the kids" while at the same time encouraging positive parental involvement.

"Youth sports are broken and need to be fixed," starts a flier announcing Fair Play Day.

On Oct. 1, parents are to ask their children the following questions about their sports experiences:

"What did you learn today?"

"Did you enjoy yourself?"

"Do you think you are playing better?"

"What's the one thing you would like to achieve in your sport?"

"If you were coaching your team, what would you do differently?"

According to Lancaster, the questions are designed to open a line of communication between parents and their children, and provide a better understanding of whether they are benefiting from the experience.

Wrong target audience

Certainly, one cannot find fault with the intent of the organizations promoting this activity.

However, one can also make the argument that the focus of Fair Play Day should be redirected towards the parents rather than the children.

What's a bigger problem with youth sports: the kids or the out-of-control parents?

The parental issue has two sides: the coach, who for any number of reasons, isn't teaching his or her players properly; and the parent, whose child can either do nothing wrong or nothing right.

Every situation is different, of course, but as the parent of two teenagers involved in sports since a young age, I have had the opportunity to be both a coach and a parent.

As a coach, I began every season by meeting with the parents, in which I outlined my expectations, both of the kids and of myself. The most important things I wanted to accomplish at this meeting were to open the lines of communication with the parents, and took make sure they completely understood me.

Our goals for the season were simple: have fun, learn the game and improve in something every day, which could be a simple as running from home to first base more quickly or making one more free throw in practice.

Respect for the game

I sometimes took time out of practice to talk with the kids about attitude, respecting the game and your opponent.

Our teams had varying degrees of success, but more importantly, I never had anything resembling a confrontation with a parent. I could count on one hand the number of times a parent came to me with a concern and each time we discussed the situation rationally and came to (I hope) an acceptable solution for everyone.

Likewise, as a parent, I am often traveling to a sports event in which one of my children is participating. They don't play every second of every game, and sometimes it can be frustrating for them, but I remind them of an old saying: It's not how much time you play that counts, but what you do with the time you're given.

Again, I can count on one hand the number of times I've felt it was necessary to talk to the coach about a concern and, each time, there was a rational discourse and an satisfactory solution. I'm certainly not perfect; unfortunately, there have been times that I've embarrassed myself with words or deeds and had to swallow my pride with a public or private apology.

Life is often filled with hard lessons; some of us just take longer to learn.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com.


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