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Modesto, Calif.


I started playing competitive sports when I was very young and learned the awful truth at the very start. My parents' voices, coming from the stands, had a major impact on my concentration.

I had been raised, as I hope all kids are, to listen to everything my parents said. The same went for my coach. Anything that one of those three distinct voices of authority said, I heard loud and clear. Even when their words were not directed at me, I listened. Even when I did not want to hear them, I heard them loud and clear. When a kid hears one of those three voices, he CANNOT ignore it.

When I was nine years old and there were 10 people in the stands, I heard them. It broke my concentration. It took some of the fun out of the game for me. It would sometimes distract me so much that it ruined the whole game for me.

When I was 24, with 1,000 vocal people lined up along each side of the field, I still picked those three voices out from all others. It is impossible to tune those voices out.

Every parent wants their kid to be the best at everything they attempt. Parents want to show their love and support for their kid; mine were no exception. Every kid wants to make their parents proud; I was no exception. That's the natural way of things, especially when it comes to parents of kids on a sports team.

At nine years old, I found out I was going to have a major problem with my parents. We sat down and had a serious talk about how much their voices affected my performance. We came to these conclusions:

1. There are two kinds of people at any sporting eventplayers and fans. Coaches, referees and/or umpires fall into the players category.

2. A PLAYER is an active participant in the game. They either play, coach or call the game.

3. A FAN is a non-participating observer. They don't play, coach or call the game. Their only purpose is to cheer on their favorite team and players.

4. A PARENT is a FAN, unless they happen to be a coach on the field.

5. Any attempt by a FAN to become a PLAYER is not acceptable.

I would step into the batter's box and my supportive father would yell out something like, "Follow the ball all the way to the bat." I had been all psyched up to bat, but now I'm looking at my dad wondering if he thinks I'm stupid because he has yelled that to me 50 times before.

I wish the embarrassment had stopped there. I struck out. On the way back to the dugout, of course, my dad tried to console me. "You'll get 'em next time slugger." I would have been less embarrassed if he had stood up and shouted, "Oh my sweet baby! How terrible you must feel. Come up here and let daddy give you a big hug."

What just happened? My dad, one of those three voices I could not ignore, just gave me coaching instructions. He changed from a fan to a player. He broke my concentration and affected my performance. Possibly the outcome of the game, too. If this happens to your kid and their team loses, that is exactly what your kid will think. It can take all of the fun out of the game for your child.

This is not what they signed up to do. They are there to play the game and have fun. If they constantly worry about impressing their parents, it may be just enough pressure to suck every drop of fun out of the game.

Most parents want to coach and advise their kids at games. It should never happen while their kid is on the field. It will not be taken well. If it is something you absolutely must say, wait until your kid is on the bench or in the dugout. It will be received a lot better. Do it quietly and in a supportive tone. Never yell from the stands in a stern or angry voice.

When training wheels are first taken off a child's bike, a parent runs alongside to catch the child if he or she falls. Most parents do the same thing from the stands, too. Realize that your child is fielding a position on a competitive, organized sports team, just like adults and professionals do. This is a very adult-like thing for a kid.

A parent must allow a child the chance to prove he or she can do it alone. It may never happen if they constantly feel their parents are right there, ready to catch them if they fall.

It is almost impossible for parents not to yell during their kid's game. If the coach has done a good job, the kids know what to do. They also know when they don't do it quite right. During the game, the last thing a kid wants to hear is a parent publicly pointing out what did not go quite right. It just pours salt in a child's wound.

A good coach will go over errors with players in the dugout or after the game. Every adult must choose words and tone of voice very carefully during the game. It is very easy for a kid to perceive an adult yelling something TO them as yelling AT them. It can be devastating.

If you ever make the mistake of yelling out constructive criticism to another kid, not your own, don't be surprised if that other kid's parents start yelling constructive criticism back at you.

Remember, your voice is not one of the three voices that other kid is tuned in to. Let the other kid's parents make their own mistakes. Whatever you yelled at that other kid was heard by YOUR kid. If a mature adult can take those words that strongly, how do you think an impressionable young kid is going to think and feel about them?

Supportive cheers directed to the entire team are always welcomed. A comment to a player that has just done something good is also welcomed. While the kids are in the field, leave the coaching to the coach. It is the only coaching the kids want to hear on the field.

Be the supportive FAN your kid needs and wants you to be. As long as they know you are there, they will play their hearts out to make you proud. But if you remind them you are there too much, they won't be able to do that. Find every way to make the game as fun as it can be for your kid.

I have been playing for 33 years because, when I was a kid, my parents kept the game fun for me. Because my parents did that for me, here is what I did for them. I kept playing, and now I am a national tournament winner in the Amateur Softball Assn. men's fast-pitch Division A. I was also voted the ASA fast-pitch Division A MVP.

I am very proud of that.

I am even more proud to say that I was and always will be,

Great Article, Hal! Thank You!

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