Parents do not receive a playbook when their child signs up to play a sport.
There is no manual.
There is no tip sheet.
That is all about to change in a big way. An initiative by the United States Olympic Committee has pulled together expert advice and input from its many national governing bodies (NGBs) to produce the Team USA Parent Youth Sports Resources.
Beginning April 5 and continuing each month through the end of 2019, the program will roll out a total of 32 resources to help parents negotiate their way through the youth sports machine. It is an ambitious program that involves input from 12 NGBs, including USA Swimming, USA Hockey, USA Volleyball and others.
“A lot of these things revolve around how to keep your kid active for life,” said Chris Snyder, the USOC’s director of coaching education. “How do you know if they have a trained coach? How to build character through sport, avoiding burnout, all the way down to how kids keep having fun or how do you make the gameday experience awesome if you’re a rock star parent.”
In fact, that is one of the topics. Being a rock star parent.
The “5 Ways that you can be a Rock Star Parent” resource includes offering to help your child’s team or program, getting to know the other players and families on the team, allowing your child to take ownership, treating the coach as an ally and being there to cheer on the team.
Other topics, each of them using the “5 ways” presentation, include keeping your child active for life, how to help your child develop character through sport, five ways to speak up when you are a concerned parent, five ways to sample a variety of sports and being kind to officials.
All of the 32 resources will be available at TeamUSA.org/ADM, and also available through NGBs. The guidance falls under the umbrella of the American Development Model, which began in 2009 as a USA Hockey initiative to provide age-appropriate guidelines for youth development. The USOC and other NGBs subsequently adopted the model.
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Ken Martel, who is USA Hockey’s technical director for the ADM, sees the model as a natural fit for all sports.
“For the most part, our sports may be a little bit different,” he said, “but the youth sports experience that parents want for their kids, it’s the same thing. We just have so much in common. For a long time, we were all in our own little silos trying to do our work the best we can.”
Added Tracy Davies, the United States Tennis Association’s director of junior play: “I think being partners with the other organizations will be tremendous for us. People are always saying, ‘What are other sports doing? How do we compare? How can we all work together?’”
The beginning process of the Team USA Parent Youth Sports Resources began a year ago when officials from 30 NGBs met in Baltimore to talk about parent engagement at the youth sports level.
The process was eye opening and the collaboration inspiring.
“From an NGB perspective, sometimes you get the impression that it’s just you and your sport, and you alone have these issues,” Martel said. “Then you get in a room with all our other compatriots here, and we all have the same problems. We see the same issues in our youth sports culture.”
Snyder said the benefit to parents and their children, as well as the NGBs, is important.
“In order to build great athletes down the road, you’ve got to start at the bottom and provide every kid an opportunity to have a great experience, love sport and stay in it,” Snyder said. “It’s important to get the parents to be an advocate. ... All these things are a good benefit, it’s about getting America to be strong through sport.”
For youth tennis, the timing couldn’t be better. Davies said tennis has not had a problem enticing children to take up the sport. Keeping them around from year to year, however, has been a challenge.
“We’re very good at attracting kids and very bad at keeping them,” Davies said. “They just get tired of the rankings, high competitive levels and having to play year-round to keep up, to keep excelling.”
The USTA has focused efforts on parents, and that is precisely what the Team USA Parent Youth Sports Resources are all about.
“That’s what we’ve been working on the last few years, how to make our experiences better,” Davies said. “And this coming along with a parent education piece tying in to the way we’re changing, it’s perfect timing.”
The bottom line, Martel said, is that no matter the sport their kids are playing in, parents are seeking similar experiences.
“Parents want the same things for their kids,” Martel said. “They want them to be safe. They want to have an enjoyable experience. They want to succeed. They want them to use sport to provide the values that we all know sport can provide.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.