This past Tuesday I attended the Project Play Summit in Washington, DC – organized by The Aspen Institute. The Summit, seeking to reimagine sports in America with health and inclusion as core values, congregated over 400 youth sport leaders from the United States for a day-long discussion about the “State of Play” in the United States. We tackled areas such as Reintroducing Free Play, Encouraging Sport Sampling, Training All Coaches, Physical Literacy and more.
We need all children to play sports and to continue playing sports into their teenage years and beyond because healthy teenagers become healthy adults.
Personally, highlights of the day were listening to Billie Jean King discuss her early days of tennis and her positive relationship with her first coach, observing the interaction between first lady Michelle Obama and her brother, Craig Robinson, during their candid discussion led by Michael Wilbon, regarding youth sports "then and now," listening to Caitlin Morris, Sr. Director of North American Global Community Impact for Nike lead a panel discussion about Design for Development and being struck with her strong leadership qualities and therefore hopeful for the role our manufactures can play in supporting grassroots youth sports, and a post-Summit dinner with many of the soccer attendees - Sam Snow, Tom Turner, John O’Sullivan, Anthony DiCicco and Stephanie Gabbert where we “solved” the soccer issues we face in the United States with the help of some margaritas.
I ended the day excited at the possibilities that exist for the growth of the game of soccer in the United States and encouraged about where we can be 30 years from now.
In reviewing my notes from the day, I was acutely aware of the fact that, time and time again, the members of the various panel discussions mentioned the role parents “play” in the challenges they face to get and keep kids involved with sports.
Parents who don’t see the value in their children playing sports.
Parents who will not encourage their child to participate in free play.
Parents who over-schedule their children so, as Michelle Obama put it, when kids go outside to play – there’s no one there!
Parents who are scared to let their children play outside for fear of them being harmed.
Parents who care more about winning than development.
Parents who put too much pressure on their children causing them to quit.
Parents who assume their children will get a college scholarship for sports.
Parents who push their children to play even when injured or concussed.
Parents who don’t understand the concepts of LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development) and push their child too early.
While I ended the day excited at the possibilities, I also ended the day wishing I had stood up to pose a question during one of the many panel discussions at the Project Play Summit and say –
Everyone continues to mention parents as a significant problem when it comes to getting and keeping kids involved in sports. My question for the Youth Sports Leaders in the room today – WHAT SPECIFICALLY ARE YOU DOING TO ENGAGE AND EDUCATE THEM?"
PARENTS NEED SOME CLARITY AS TO WHAT IS BEST FOR OUR CHILDREN, AND WE NEED GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT IN DEALING WITH OUR EMOTIONS.
Getting and keeping kids involved in sports is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed from a myriad of angles – but ultimately, with education, the parents can be a primary solution. After all,
We are the ones who need to literally force our children to put down their video games or cell phones and go outside for 30 minutes.
We are the ones who need to find opportunities for our children to engage in Free Play as studies demonstrate the positive results of this in terms of injury prevention and having fun – and we know that having fun leads to continuing to play sports.
We are the ones who need to pause and ask what the long term consequences may be for our children when we have them participating in two sports in the same season – going from soccer game to baseball game on the same day.
We are the ones who need to stop feeling like we are doing something wrong by allowing our children to go outside and explore their environment because of the societal pressure we face to be helicopter parents.
We are the ones who need to demand safe places for our children to play from our city officials.
We are the ones who need to tell our children “I Love Watching You Play” instead of “You didn’t play well enough”.
We are the ones who need to allow our children to be average or below average athletes because at the end of the day it’s all about participation and having fun, not being as good as other more naturally-gifted athletes.
We are the ones who need to stop putting pressure on our children to get a college scholarship or equate the money we are spending on youth sports to any future benefit they may (or most likely may not) receive in the form of an athletic scholarship.
We are the ones who need to let our children recover from injury instead of feel any pressure to get them back in the game to demonstrate how tough they are or to play in front of a coach or scout.
We are the ones who need to educate ourselves on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development so our children are most likely to do just that – participate for the Long Term!
All of this being said, WE NEED GUIDANCE.
It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about the crazy parents who want their children to play when possibly concussed – if they don’t educate parents and set very clear guidelines.
It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about parents who care more about winning than developing physical literacy skills when they don’t require coaches to discuss goals and objectives with parents and communicate with them regularly.
It’s not fair for youth soccer organizations to complain about parents who think their child will get a scholarship to college if they are not telling them the statistical likelihood of it and discussing the pressure their child may feel as a result of their assumptions.
More than ever, I am committed to SoccerParenting and our mission to engage and educate parents about the youth soccer experience of their children.
Soccer in the United States has experienced tremendous growth in the past 30 years from our grassroots to our professional and national teams.
The next 30 years is overflowing with exciting possibilities for the growth of the game. That being said, the possibilities will not be fully realized unless the parents are engaged and educated by the soccer leadership. If we want soccer to become a preeminent sport in the United States, we need leaders we can trust leading us, guiding us, educating us, engaging us, empowering us - ALL OF US - players at all levels, coaches at all levels, parents and fans.
The lines of communication must be opened between our parents and our leaders and the gaps that exist must not only be bridged, they must be paved with a healthy attitude of collaboration and trust as we work together to ensure our children stay involved and PLAY.
My hope is that at next year’s Project Play Summit there will be a panel about Engaging and Educating Parents.
We must learn from organizations that see value in working with parents and purposefully build trustful relationships between coaches and parents. Best practices must be established - for soccer, and all sports to emulate, because our kids deserve a healthy environment to develop as players and people.
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