By Mark G. McLaughlin

There are great sports parents and there are awful sports parents. Being the latter is so easy it almost seems to be the default setting.  Being the former, however, really isn’t very hard. Good sports parents show up at games, don’t make a scene and don’t nag the kids or the coaches. Most importantly, win or lose, they remember that after all it is just a game, and one that is more about having fun than scoring points. Here are five of the best ways to become an awesome sports parent.

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Number One: Be Present

Kids play sports for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important to them is that they get to show off for their parents. Having their parents on the sidelines cheering them on can mean the world to a child. It shows them and their friends that they have a mom, dad or both who will take the time and make the effort to encourage them and support them. As anyone who has coached children’s sports will attest, when a child scores a point or makes a great play, the first thing most do is to look to sidelines to see if their parents were watching. Any athlete will agree that making their parents proud means more to them than all the cheers and applause from their coach, their teammates and the crowd combined.

The Kids Already Have A Coach – They Don’t Need Another One

Children want their parents to be supportive – but they don’t want them picking apart their performance. Armchair quarterbacking and post-game analysis is fine when talking about a professional sporting event, but not about how your son or daughter played. If they made a mistake, messed up a key play, were slow to take advantage of an opportunity or, worse, struck out, fouled out or tried and failed to score, they don’t want their parents to remind them of that. They do not want to relive their failings with their parents or suffer through a lecture about what they should or should not have done. Their coach knows how to help a player learn from mistakes. Kids expect their coaches, like their teachers, to correct them and teach them how to do things the right way. They don’t need or want that from their parents. All they want, and need, is support, and a hug – either to celebrate victory or to make defeat easier to bear.

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Don’t Embarrass Your Child

Every coach and many parents have seen some kid’s mom or dad act inappropriately at a game. Those who curse or scream at a coach, a referee, or one of the players are the worst – and the most embarrassing for their child.  Not only is such kind of outrageous behavior improper and distracting, but it also makes kids look and feel bad when their parent is drawing such negative attention upon them. It is not only bad behavior, however, that embarrasses a kid. Although they want and appreciate their parents interest in and attendance at a game, they also want their parents to keep back, and not hover around the bench offering advice to them or their friends, or pressuring the coach to play them.

Remember: It’s Supposed To Be About Having Fun

Children’s sports are really just organized playtime with adult supervision. Unlike collegiate or professional athletes, kids truly “play” a sport – they don’t work at it.  True, they all want to score goals, hit home runs, make a basket or do something spectacular, but most of all, they want to have fun.  When going to practice feels like homework, or when playing a game feels like they are taking a test, then it is no longer fun.  A lot of kids drop out of sports even before hitting high school because they feel pressured to perform – when all they wanted to do was to have a good time, be with their friends and feel part of something. Too many parents lecture or pressure their kids to be better at sports.  A good sports parent holds back from that, and offers their support. Letting a child know you are there if they want to kick a ball around, have a game of catch, or work on a skill is a good thing – even a great thing.  Ordering them to get out there and do it is just the opposite.

Winning Isn’t Everything – It’s Actually The Least Thing

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Sports are competitions; winners get all the glory and losers get all the pain. That is just the way it is, even with youth sports. Kids, however, need to be shown that it is more than just about victory and defeat. The cheers fade away by the time the victors get home, and the tears dry just as quickly – if the parents let them. While it is good to cheer on a child for their victory, do not let them wallow in defeat – and do not remind them of failures. In victory, be generous to the losers, and in defeat be even more so to the victors. Then move on.  When the game is over, it’s over.  Let the ride home or the pizza party afterward be the end of it. Let your child know that there is always another day, another game, and another chance not just to win, but also to play better and, well, just to play – and have fun.