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In my inbox was an email from a league administrator reminding all youth football fans, a collective group of which I am part, of the following “sportsmanship reminders”:

1) Be thoughtful of others.
2) Be careful what you say…you never know who’s around you.
3) Referees are human…they make mistakes at ALL levels of football.
4) Social Media is not a sounding board for your frustrations.
5) We are in this together…do your part to make sure we succeed.
6) Winning is important, but it’s far from the most important.

I appreciate that this piece of communication went out. I would like to believe that reading it caused a few parents or other supporters of youth athletes to look at themselves a little harder in the mirror and question their own behavior.

Or, if they are able to personally keep their cool, maybe it convinced some to not remain silent on the sidelines if they are seated within close proximity to a mom or dad whose blood pressure is boiling over because of what they’re witnessing on the field. That’s what the GiveTheGameBack movement is all about after all!

I, myself, have fallen victim more times than I care to admit to the mindset of “what can my kids do for me (and their teams)?” Because, let’s be totally honest, we see our children as a direct reflection of ourselves, so it feels REALLY good when they succeed, doesn’t it?

How many tackles can they make? How many yards can they gain? How many blocks can they unleash?

I think all these thoughts and more every single game and, frankly, I don’t even understand half of what’s going on. Nor do I enjoy seeing kids, in general, compete in football because not everyone knows how to make or absorb a tackle at their age. (Sorry to any football coaches reading this right now.) On the flip side, both of my boys love playing the game and my husband played college ball so I am outnumbered in our household.

What I DO understand is that all sports, including football, give my kids experiences and memories that will live on far after their final game is played. They’re learning what it’s like to win graciously and lose humbly. They’ve met a band of brothers outside of their normal school friends who they can talk to and laugh with. They have adult mentors who are teaching them not only about how to play the sport, but how to deal with success and adversity in life as well.

I’ve discovered that football is unique because the best teams are a mash-up of several body types and abilities. Big, small, tall, fast, methodical, good hands, powerful legs, loud and boisterous, strong but silent…there’s a little bit of everything. All 11 guys on the field must be on the same page in order to win. Timing, precision, coverage: If one guy is off by a mere half second, the entire team suffers as a result.

Can you think of 10 other people who you must consistently gel with in order to succeed? Seriously, picture them in your head right now. Of those 10, does everyone approach each “game day” with the same mindset and focus? Or are there at least one or two who have their minds up in the clouds or who are persistently angry at life or who are dealing with a personal crisis that doesn’t even involve you but impacts your own chances for success?

I think we forget as adults that our kids are just mini-adults growing into the next generation of leaders and followers – Those who will want to naturally take charge and those who will be more comfortable receiving guidance.

And even though they will rarely (if ever) admit it, they are watching us and how we act towards one another.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up these additional “sportsmanship reminders” to compliment those that our league administrator has already communicated. Here’s a list of things that we can do for our youth athletes:

1) Remember that the athletes you are watching and the adults who are cheering them on are just kids wanting to succeed like your own and parents wishing the best for their own.
2) If you don’t have anything positive to say, then get a hot dog or popcorn from the concession stand and insert it into your mouth. Even if you believe you are 100% right in your negative opinions, the bigger person won’t drag others through the mud with verbal assaults.
3) Referees are in short supply. You are fortunate that the men in stripes have volunteered (or are getting paid minimally) to help teach your boy the game of football. If you think the refs aren’t doing a good enough job, then find out what it takes to become a ref yourself.
4) Social Media posts are permanent. Before you rant or rave, ask yourself one thing: Would I feel comfortable saying everything I want to share online out loud to someone I admire? Would I feel good declaring it in front of my own kids and their friends?
5) We ARE all in this together. Someday all of our kids will be hanging up their cleats. Sports will only take them so far. Disclaimer: It’s not as far as many adults think! What other life lessons are we bestowing upon them to help them navigate through life? What are we showing them we value that can’t be measured in wins and losses?
6) Academics are more important than athletics. Will you approach your child’s parent/teacher conference with the same passion you approach their games? Will you praise them for what they achieve in the classroom as voraciously as you congratulate them for their output on the field?

Parenting an athlete is hard. Parenting a child through adulthood is harder.

We ARE all in this together.

If you have thoughts you’d like to share on this topic, please comment below or reach out to me here.

Written by Heidi Woodard