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5 Things the Non-Athlete Parent Needs to Know About Youth Sports

05/04/2015 04:42 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016
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Your kid wants to play sports, and that's a great thing except for this: You were never an athlete and you aren't one now. You might not even watch sports. Now what? Non-athletic sports parents suffer from a double disability. First, they don't know what it's like to be a student-athlete and, second, they don't have a role model -- either positive or negative -- about how to be a parent of an athlete.

When my now-18-year-old son first wanted to play T-ball, this was me. I wanted to play sports as a kid, but my parents wouldn't let me, for fear I would get injured. And when I was in high school and begged to be on the swim team, my mom simply refused to drive me to practices that early in the morning. Those were the pre-carpool days.

The good news is that the fundamentals aren't that hard to master. If I did it, so can you! There are just five things you really need to know:

Support Your Kid.

Showing real support is doing something that moves you beyond your comfort zone. If your daughter wants to play the violin, like you did, you'd know exactly what to do: rent an instrument until you see that the interest sticks, find a good teacher, get a music stand. But when she says, "Mom, I want to play lacrosse," now what? Really supporting your kid means doing something for which you're entirely unprepared. It's somewhere along the scale of changing diapers, having "the talk," and learning that your kid wants to join the Peace Corps. Just go with it and be grateful she's not interested in bullfighting.

Do Your Research.

You wouldn't hire a contractor without a recommendation, so why would you find the first team or league you see and sign up your kid without doing any research first? In most suburbs and cities, you'll have plenty of teams -- and coaches -- from which to choose. Talk to other parents, find out what the coach is like. Is he or she a yeller? Overly competitive? Or is she encouraging and supportive, especially of new players? Does the league conduct background checks on the coaches? Get on the league's Facebook page and Twitter feed and check out the feedback from parents and players. Make an informed decision, not a knee-jerk one.

Be A Role Model.

You may not know the sport, but you do know what kind of person you want your kid to become, so be that role model for your kid. Don't yell at the refs and umps. Don't whine to the coach about playing time. Respect the game. Work hard. Follow the rules. Be a mensch. What will you do to help your kid pursue her goals and dreams? Go running with her. Put up a basketball hoop and play a game of horse before dinner. Get in some extra practice, between the weekly team workouts, so your kid gets in good physical condition and develops her skills.

Hang with the Right Crowd.

Peer support is essential for your kid; you know that. But did you consider it might be important for you too? Be selective and make sure you're not hanging out with the sports parent everyone knows and hates, the overbearing, know-it-all, coach-haranguing one. Instead, befriend the experienced parent (maybe one with an older child or two) who's "been there, done that" and can show you the ropes of being the good sports parent. Find someone who cheers for all the players rather than just her own child. Worst case, you have someone to share a blanket with on a cold morning at the field. Or maybe you'll end up with a carpooling partner. Score!

Don't Over-Identify.

Remember, it's your kid's game, not yours. She owns the wins and losses, not you. When she loses a game or suffers a setback -- as she surely will -- make sure she doesn't feel she's disappointing you, the parent. Don't grill her in the car on the way home after a loss. Wait until SHE brings it up, which may not ever happen, as is often the case with my daughter. And even then, don't criticize her play or point out her mistakes. Just ask, "Did you have fun?" or "What do you think you'll do differently next time?" and let her answer you. Don't judge, just show her unconditional love, win or lose.

Now that your kid wants to play sports, you have a great opportunity: You get to learn something new together -- and you get to exercise your parental responsibilities in new ways: to make sure your child gets the best youth sports has to offer in molding great citizens.