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Creating a positive experience for youth in sports

IGHSAU's Brinkmeyer shares lessons on how positive parental experience makes a difference for kids in sports

While the focus of athletics is winning and losing, that’s not always what young people want to hear, particularly from their parents.


Young people want to know they’re loved, cared and supported throughout their athletic endeavors, no matter what. That was part of the message Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union assistant director Lisa Brinkmeyer shared Thursday during Parents Activities Night at the Creston High School Auditorium.


“The best advice kids said they get from parents is six simple words: ‘I love to watch you play.’ That’s all they want to hear,” Brinkmeyer said.


Brinkmeyer shared how supportive parents can make the difference for young athletes. She shared a study researcher and author Tim Elmore did about how the pressure parents put on young athletes can add undue stress on them.


“He (Elmore) did a study with college athletes talking to them about their interactions with their parents, what they drilled in on what makes them tick as athletes,” Brinkmeyer said. “After dealing with them them, there were three reoccurring things: parents are too involved, parents provide too much pressure and they’re smothering kids.”


Parents can help their children perform well by saying simple phrases.


“The best things kids say they want to hear from their parents before a competition is play hard, have fun and I love you,” Brinkmeyer said. “Notice, there’s nothing here about points or scoring.”


Having a supportive environment at home can make for a much better athletic experience for the child, Brinkmeyer said.


“A lot of times, kids come off bad game and they’ve had their coaches in their ear, their teammates are upset with them. The last thing they want to hear is to get in the car and hear it from their parents who should be supporting them,” Brinkmeyer said.


She shared an experience of a friend whose daughter is in sports. A change in the parents' approach made the competitive experience much better for the daughter.


“She said their daughter did not want to ride home with them, she’s in eighth grade. All they do is yell at me,” Brinkmeyer said. “I read the study to her. I told her I’m not lecturing her. I shared with her something that’s been proven by research. She said thank you. I didn’t talk to them for a couple of days. The next week when I called, she said, you were right. I shared this with my husband. We’ve been doing this for a week and our lives are much better.”


Brinkmeyer noted the difference in how men and women remember their high school experiences. She noted how her husband was all about remembering statistics, what happened in the games, while Brinkmeyer remember other parts of those experiences, such as where the team ate its meals and whatnot.


Children, Brinkmeyer said, do want to do well by their parents on the playing field.

“Remember that your honies are you’re little honies. They’re not only there to play a game, but also to please you,” Brinkmeyer said.


She told parents to savor the time their experiences their children are having, realizing how fast those experiences go by.


“The kids know the high school experience goes by very quickly. When your children reflect on it, they know it went very fast. You remember how quick those years flew by. Now it’s your kids turn to experience those years. It’s your job to sit back, relax as much as you can and experience those years as a parent. You need to make sure those experiences are a lot more pleasurable.”


How a parent interacts with a child can make a difference whether or not the child enjoys the sport.


“I go to state tournaments, regionals and regular season games. I hear parents berating their kids, berating other peoples’ kids, going after officials, offering the coach a lot of advice,” Brinkmeyer said. “If you were to see the look on kids’ faces when they hear their parents screaming and yelling, they’re devastated and embarrassed.”


Parental involvement can cross the lines at times, Brinkmeyer said. She noted how if the parents take a different approach, the experience can be a lot more positive for those involved.


“Parents need to be put in the coaching position of this game. Watch someone else’s kid besides your own and write down four positive things the kid was doing rather than watching your own kid, critiquing your own kid. Pay attention to the game.”


Brinkmeyer noted how a positive coach can make all the difference in whether or not a young person enjoys a sport. 


She recalled how a golf coach made a positive impact on her, and in turn created a lifelong love she has for golf.


“When I was taught golf at a young age, it frustrated me. I did not think I was a very good golfer. Then an uncle who was a good golfer showed me how to play. He showed me the fun things and all of the sudden I learned to love golf. If that coach, that uncle drilled in me, told me how terrible I was at it and didn’t support me on it, I wouldn’t have played golf for very long.”


Brinkmeyer touted the importance of being a multiple sport athlete, and how specialization isn’t always a good thing.


“Sometimes a kid picks a sport, but a lot of the pressure comes from the outside. The parent sees something in their kid that they didn’t have, pushes them to specialize. We’ve researched it and it’s not good,” Brinkmeyer said. 


College coaches, Brinkmeyer noted, are not in favor of specialization, as well as a number of professional athletes.


“College coaches love multiple sport athletes,” Brinkmeyer said. Some of the professional athletes will talk about their multiple sport experiences. (Professional golfer) Jordan Speith talks about playing with different teams, it saved him wear and tear on his body. You talk to any college coach and they talk about their start players, a lot of times, they were multiple-sport athletes.”


A child doesn’t just have to be involved in multiple sports, but can be involved in other activities such as band, speech and drama as well.


“You don’t have to be the best athlete,” Brinkmeyer said. “When a kid participates in multiple sports, is in activities, they go out for music and band, they can be involved in different things. It helps a lot. It helps with camaraderie. The kids that are in band and not sports come out and watch sports. And the kids who are in sports but not in music, go to support music, it helps a lot.”


Brinkmeyer noted how the one of the state’s largest schools can and does make it work for young people to be multiple sport athletes.


“One biggest schools Valley West Des Moines can make it work with kids being multiple sport athletes,” Brinkmeyer said. “The athletic director sits down with the coaches and says you may not get this kid every day at 2 p.m., but you will have the kid as many times as you can at 2 p.m. If he’s not here, he’s with this coach. We’ll let them play in the big game. They make it work. That’s what’s best for kids rather than pulling kids in different directions so they don’t get to experience a lot of things that kids who play high school athletics never do.”






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