Youth sports programs often can only run with the help of parent volunteers. Whether your role on the team is crucial (team manager) or mostly on the sidelines, it’s vital to keep sportsmanship and a helpful attitude front and center. Here’s how you can help!
Taking Charge of Team Communication
Take the burden off your (likely unpaid) team coach and volunteer to oversee team communication. It’s easier than ever to communicate with other team parents online and via phone, but start the season with a face-to-face team meeting. This is a great time to review expectations from other parent volunteers. Come prepared with information and schedules for:
• Team snack
responsibilities and requirements: who brings what snacks and when?
• Transportation expectations: does everyone drive his or her own child, or will you carpool?
• End-of-season events such as a party or final meeting.
Most importantly, decide on a single method of communication for your team. Pick one communication app or website and stick to it. Gather every parent’s e-mail address and phone number if not already provided and give parents a heads-up how often you plan to communicate with them. Be mindful of privacy: choose a communication method every parent is comfortable with. For in-stance, some may not want to give their e-mail address, or others may not want to communicate via an online service.
Planning for Games Away from Home
If your child is on a serious or competitive team, chances are, you’ll be traveling away from home for some games or tournaments. Plan as far in advance as possible, and use your communication method of choice to create carpools and to detail costs. Decide whether parents will be responsible for travel costs such as gas, food, and lodging individually or whether everyone will contribute to a travel fund.
If a hotel stay is part of your travel experience, try to stay at the same hotel chain each time to collect points in a hotel loyalty program. Many hotel brands also offer a discounted room rate if reservations are booked in larger blocks. Call hotels in advance to ask whether they offer this benefit. If so, block the rooms, and then request each family book individually. There’s no need to pay for all the rooms upfront.
Look for hotels that offer rooms with kitchenettes, which allow parents to store team snacks, keep water cold, and even make simple meals in the room. Always opt for a hotel with a complimentary breakfast and check what time it is served, in the case of early morning games. A laundry facility on hand is always helpful, and for after the game, a hotel pool is a fun attraction for the kids.
Dinner out can be a fun way to build community and bond as a team. However, group sizes can make restaurant visits hard. Call potential restaurants early in the day with an estimated head count and be sure to emphasize that it will be OK to split the group into several tables. This will ensure a shorter wait or avail-ability of seating. Ask for individual checks up front, and if kids are seated away from parents, instruct each parent to order for his or her child so wait staff won’t need to gather confusing orders from kids and checks are easier to split.
All parents should work hard to instill good sportsmanship in their children, and of course a good attitude and positive conduct are crucial from mom and dad, too. Always make sure you’re cheering for your team, never cheering against the opponent, and that you leave any constructive criticism for your coach to dole out. Don’t instruct your child in any way during the game and only approach the player bench if instructed to do so.
Respect the referees as well and never engage in negative discussions or arguments with opposing parents. Instead, look for the common ground, which isn’t too hard to find: you’re all there for the same reason, to cheer on the kids and enjoy the sport. Remember that the kids are just kids and still learning. Save any conflicts or criticism for your coach until you can speak in private -- away from other players, your child, or other parents.
If a conflict does arise with another player or parent, do not engage. Walk away from an escalating situation or ask an official to intervene. If you see another adult who needs to curb his or her behavior, intervene as a group or with an official or coach.
At the end of the season, wrap up the year with a celebratory event or meeting to keep the goodwill flowing and to stay in touch with parents for future opportunities or teams. Recognize team success or achievements during your last event and consider rewarding young players with tools for their future success, such as balls or other gear, rather than with participation trophies.
Ask fellow parents whether you can save their contact information, or keep the communication app or service open so parents can continue to contact each other for support, additional events, or continued friendship.
(Amy Whitley is a travel writer, editor, and avid outdoorswoman living in Southern Oregon. Amy writes the NWKids column for OutdoorsNW Magazine, edits at Trekaroo.com, and founded the family travel site PitStopsForKids.com. She loves hiking, camping, and skiing with her three sons.)