Ask GGR – Sports & Activities Concerns

In our work with families, athletes, coaches and Athletic Directors over the last few months, common concerns emerge. The questions below reflect these issues.

Click on any of the questions below to be presented with the answer.

I have seen TV commercials urging parents to speak to their children about drugs. My son is 12 years old. How do I start the conversation?

Parents often feel uncomfortable about discussing the “hot topics” namely drugs/alcohol and sex. Waiting for the so-called right time often means starting the discussion when the issue arises as a problem. Unfortunately this is often too late. Therefore, it is important to establish a comfort zone within in the family for discussing a variety of topics. I recommend holding family meetings on a regular basis to resolve family issues, set rules and plan for the future. When these occur bringing up the tougher stuff fits in naturally as just another subject. In other words, the process for conversation is already established making any subject easier to talk about.

Specifically, in your situation, after several meetings have been held and all members of the family are more at ease, you can open the discussion about drugs. I would start with a hypothetical question that is relevant to your child’s life. For example, I might ask, “What would you do if one of your friends offered you a drag on a marijuana cigarette when you were hanging out at his house?” In addition to practicing specific coping strategies in advance of a potential situation, the door is open to talk about drugs in general. A note of caution, prepare yourself for the discussion by acquiring accurate information. Children, especially adolescents, turn you off if what you are saying is ether exaggerated or not consistent with what they have learned both at school and on the street. Therefore, do your homework by researching available data bases and publications that can be passed on to your child as factual. In addition, make sure the adults in the family are clear about what message they want to send about experimenting with drugs. Any ambiguity you might be feeling will be sensed by the child.

Also, if you experimented with drugs while you were in high school or college, be ready with an answer when you child asks you if you ever tried drugs. There is no right answer for this. Some parents try to deflect by saying that the question is not relevant to their decisions. Although probably accurate, children usually hear this answer as a tacit admission that their parent used drugs. The other approach is to say that just because they might have made mistakes when they were younger, their children should learn from those mistakes. To reinforce this argument, a parent can point to factual information that proves that the marijuana smoked 25 years ago was much weaker that what is out there today. Furthermore, reputable studies are demonstrating that drugs and alcohol abuse among adolescents can affect brain development in the later maturing area of the brain the prefrontal cortex.

Our sixteen year old daughter is an exceptional softball player headed, hopefully, for a Division I or II scholarship. In addition to being the starting shortstop on our highly rated high school team she participates in several elite leagues during the summer. She is outgoing, popular an above average student and not overly challenging to parent. Our 13 year old son is totally different. He has few friends, calls himself a nerd and practically can’t live without his computer. He dislikes sports, loves video games and has to be forced to leave the house after school or on weekends. He does get good grades when he feels motivated but is selective in what he wants to work hard out. His sister makes fun of him and their once close relationship has totally deteriorated. Do we just live with this or is there something we can be doing?

In your family it is clear that there are basic differences in your children’s temperaments (personality style). Research tells us that about 40% of our basic temperament is determined at birth by our genes. However, in your case it sounds like the differences in personalities between your children has been enhanced by circumstance. Keep in mind that your daughter’s accomplishments earn her a great deal of reinforcement both from her peers and the significant adults in her life. Your son, on the other hand, gets little external reinforcement, especially by his peers. Therefore, he has taken on the extremes of his self imposed label as a nerd and is defining himself as an unpopular loser. Enlist your daughter as an ally and begin to find ways to raise your son’s sense of self worth through activities that reward his strengths. Suggest entering online competitions on his favorite games, getting him involved in extra-curricular clubs and courses with youth who share his interests. Then, the family needs to be creative in finding ways to acknowledge this as being just as important as your daughter’s athletic achievement. When the word gets out it will also raise his “social currency” which means regard from his peers. With success he will then begin to modify his self perception and be more comfortable with who he is rather than second rate to his talented sister.

My son wants to quit his soccer team because he says the coach is a "jerk." What should we do?

The most important thing you can do is not to immediately react to your son with either an admonishment for calling the coach a name or for a lecture about not letting down his team. It is not that these thoughts are unreasonable, but if you go there first you will cut off the opportunity to find out what is really going on with your son. Begin with a validating statement such as, “Sounds like you are very upset with what is going on your team, tell us what is going on.” By choosing this path you are giving your son the message that what he is experiencing is legitimate for him at the moment and that you are willing to hear him out. The next step is to hear him out without interruption, when he finishes repeat what he said and ask him he you got it right. This makes sure that he has been understood. Remember, understanding does not mean agreement. It simply lets the other person know they were listened to. This empowers them in a positive way and reduces defensiveness. With these two steps out of the way, you can now get into a problem solving mode. Start to focus on the specifics with the intent of finding solutions. You have the information from your son’s perspective allowing you to start asking the follow up questions that most certainly came to mind as he was speaking. In addition, if you decide that more information is needed from the coach or his team mates the conversation can be put on hold until this happens. At this point it is also appropriate to remind your son about the ground rules you have previously established concerning commitment to his team and the promise to do his best no matter what. You can then ask, “Is quitting the team consistent with the ground rules you have agreed to?” This approach focuses attention back to responsibility and overcoming the frustration that he might be experiencing and leads to taking steps to resolve the issue.

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We have a 5 year old daughter and 8 year-old son. We have been holding weekly family meetings for about 6 weeks. My husband and I have tried to explain why we have the meetings, but neither of the children are taking them seriously. They fool around instead of sitting and listening or contributing, and say they are bored. We keep the meetings short and simple, but it doesn't help. Are we starting too early?

You have not started too young and you are certainly on the right path in holding the meetings.  Explaining why you are having meetings is OK but will not be the motivator.  The children need to see that the meetings have value for them not just for the parents.  Start with something the children want and have a discussion about what steps need to happen to make it possible.  An example would be a family trip or vacation or simply TV or computer time.   Make sure the kids are heard and validated for their suggestions and comments.  This is empowering and will lead to a stronger commitment to the meeting process.  As far as behavior during meetings, ground rules for meeting behavior should be reviewed at the beginning of every meeting.  If there is a breaking of the rules then utilize the discipline strategy outlined in Family Centered Parenting.

The parents of one of my daughter's teammates brought a list of grievances to the AD at a prestigious D1 school, and the coach was forced to resign. The real reason for the complaints was the girl's lack of playtime. The coach was vulnerable for several reasons, primarily a less than stellar season, but did not commit any wrongs that would warrant his being fired. The team is now divided and there is animosity between the four players who secretly went to the AD to complain and the larger number of players who had no grievances against the coach. Several new players will be starting in the fall and they are not pleased with the situation. No new coach has been hired to date, and this situation has become very public on an online forum with the dissenting parents continually making personal attacks on other parents as well as specific players. Potential hires want the dissenting players to be released, but the AD is reluctant to do so. Personally I dread having to see these parents ever again and I want them off the team as well. What are your thoughts?

Although it is with the perspective of hindsight it is important to point out that this situation evolved because of the poor way the AD handled the initial interaction with the complaining parents.   In our coach, athlete, parent training program we strongly advocate that a grievance/dispute policy be created and implemented that clearly states the process for handling complaints.  The cornerstone of the policy is that a problem with a coach should first be addressed by the coach and only go to the AD if the parties in the dispute are not satisfied with the response by the coach.  In your situation the AD should have referred the four parents to the coach to attempt to resolve their issue and only get involved if the coach and parents could not agree on a plan for change.  The person responsible for poisoning the waters must now be the one to take responsibility for finding a solution.  The AD needs to get all parents and athletes into the same room and call a truce to the personal attacks.  The next step is to get parents from both sides involved in the selection of a new coach.   Trying to ban certain players because of the misdeeds of their parents will just create even further turmoil and make it that much more difficult to find a new quality coach.

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