I used to be one of those super enthusiastic sports parents. Instead of dropping my child off for practice like my mom did when I was a kid, I would find a perch from a proper distance away to watch. I’ve done this through basketball, baseball, dance, gymnastics, soccer, and more—sometimes finding a quiet spot on the bleachers and other times sitting in my car like a creeper.
At first, my watchdog behavior was out of enthusiasm and support. I enjoyed seeing them do something they loved. But after the initial novelty wore off, my mind started to wander. With practices often going for an hour and a half or two hours, I dreamt about all the other things I could be doing instead. I could make a quick run to pick up a prescription or go check out a book at the library. Heck, I could even be reading that book from the library—what a luxury that would be!
As a mom of two who has always worked full-time, extra minutes are precious. Yet, the pressure of sitting and watching every minute of sports practice is a real struggle. After all, it seems like most other parents stay and watch. Don’t I love my kid as much as they love theirs?
If this sounds even remotely familiar and you’ve felt the mom or dad guilt like me, then let me help you out and just say it. Parents, you do not have to watch every single minute of your child’s sports practice.
“But all the other parents stay and watch.”
Competitive parents is an actual thing—it's sometimes hard not to compare your parenting style to others—but it's not reason enough to stay and watch every practice. Believe me, I know it seems like all the other parents stay and watch (and in some cases or communities this might absolutely be true). However, I'm willing to guess that there's at least one or two parents that don't. Or if not, maybe you'll start a trend by being the one willing to leave.
This is something I've noticed. When I first started distancing myself from sports practices, it felt weird and like the other parents were going to judge me. I'd say, "Well, see you later, I'm going to make a grocery run." And little by little, other parents began to do the same. It was almost as if one person needed to start it to give the others permission.
“But my child needs me there.”
Too much parent involvement is one of the top complaints from coaches when it comes to youth sports. This study even cites helicopter parenting as being a major concern, often causing coaches to quit. While it might be tempting to sit and watch to give your child extra tips or learn what they need to work on, it's best to let the coaches do their jobs. You might think they need you there for support, but by letting go a little bit and encouraging them to figure things out on their own, you really are doing them a favor overall.
They'll learn to thrive in ways you never imagined, and it'll probably show later on. The athlete/coach relationship needs to develop without parents getting involved. It's tempting to form those relationships for your child, but if you can teach them how, that's a skill they'll use for many years to come. Plus when we focus on making youth sports fun again, our kids benefit.
“But I like staying to watch.”
This one is the toughest one because it goes up against something we want for ourselves, and I completely understand. It's fun to see what our kids are so passionate about, or frankly, what we're paying for. For the parent who played sports themselves, this is especially challenging. You like the drills, the plays, the techniques, etc. Yet, by being there all the time, you're not giving your child a chance to really grow and develop that relationship with their coach and teammates. They're always watching you as you watch them.
You can find dozens (probably hundreds) of articles like this one of coaches begging parents to leave them alone when it comes to coaching. It might seem innocent enough to watch every practice, but it can also give coaches a nice break to not have to deal with the hovering.
“But I don’t have anything else to do." or "I don't have time to go home."
Sometimes it just doesn't make sense to drive all the way home to sit there for 15 minutes just to go back and pick your kid up from practice, right? Or maybe you just don't have anything going on that night and you want to sit and watch. If that's the case, so be it. Just make sure you're not letting your kids' sports take over your life. Tell yourself it's totally okay to run an errand, get some work done during practice, or just go for a walk.
Right now, many parents are finding out what it's like to be banned from practice and even games because of COVID and social distancing restrictions. But maybe it's time for us all to take a look at the typical youth sports practice and ask ourselves "Do I really NEED to be there?" (By the way, if you're curious how COVID is impacting sports, take a look at this comprehensive study.)
I'm not suggesting to never watch practice. My two kids are super sporty, and I love watching them in their element. I'm just saying maybe it's an opportunity for us to let go a little bit and reclaim some "me" time.