Archives For youth sports parents

football graphic

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

One of my biggest motivators for launching GiveTheGameBack earlier this year was to connect with other youth sports parents to learn from them and their experiences. One sport I know very little about is club volleyball. What I’ve heard about the sport second-hand from parents whose kids are playing is that it is INTENSE AND EXPENSIVE.

Lucky for me, I met fellow writer Leslie Murrell. Leslie and her husband have a set of twins, one boy and one girl, who are both heavily involved in sports. Leslie played volleyball and basketball for West Texas A&M University and, like me, has transitioned from competing as an athlete to spectating as a parent.

I hope you enjoy her insight into club volleyball as much as I did. Enjoy!

volleyball 101

You would think, as a former collegiate volleyball athlete and club coach, that I’d be fully prepared to be a volleyball mom. Not so much, it turns out. This last year has been a year of growth and learning for this momma just as much as for my daughter, Lucy.

Volleyball is fairly unique in the world of select and club sports.

So here are my tips and explanations for club volleyball moms (and dads) out there:

Don’t get sucked into the drama.
It’s not your drama. Chances are, it’s probably not the team’s drama either. In my rookie mom year, I was completely sucked into some super bizarre dialogue, gossip, and drama. Little, if any, had anything to do with Lucy. I can’t decide if it’s the money invested, or the parents adjusting to their daughter in sports.

Volleyball is a strategic, smart sport.
Trust your daughter’s ability and emotional intelligence. Heart to heart, and mom to mom, this is a tough one. Stop telling people how smart your daughter is, and let her show you. Give her some room to learn and do.

Don’t be sexist.
We have the unique disposition of having boy/girl twins who are also athletes. So, seeing how the parents interact with my son’s team versus my daughter’s team is interesting. My observation is that parents emotionally coddle their daughters in sports way more than they would their sons in sports – which is odd, given that girls mature faster. On the flip side, volleyball continues to grow in popularity so much that your son may ask to play. Please don’t be sexist! There are boys’ teams out there too, and it’s a great opportunity.

Prepare financially and emotionally.
Club volleyball as I see it, seems to be one of the more expensive select or club sports. Do your research on the clubs in your area. Go through Heidi’s tips for select sports. Learn what each club offers. Many clubs in town offer several different levels. Look into all of your options and do what’s best for your athlete. Ask several parents why they chose that club.

Have a complete understanding of what you’re paying for.
For a travelling club volleyball team, we’re talking a STARTING RATE of $2,000. For any other purchase of that amount, you’d get an itemized bill.

Also, don’t assume the more money you drop, the more say you have as to where and how much time your daughter plays. Try to remember everyone on the team paid the same amount as you did.

If you pay that club fee and then you get hit up for a Sand Training, it’s not bogus.
Not only is training in the sand is one of the most effective ways to improve on coordination, agility, fast-twitch muscles, but beach volleyball is now offered as a scholarship sport at several universities. And it’s not just on the west coast. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a beach volleyball team.

Learn to say no or sandbag that financial preparation I just mentioned.
Be prepared to get up charged on private lessons, camps, and clinics. In talking to my other select sports moms, this seems pretty unique to volleyball. Consider your budget, your daughter’s time, and prioritize what you feel is necessary based on her goals. It’s okay to be the parent who says “no” to an additional tournament or private lessons.

We were first to speak up about a tournament we didn’t want to add on, and were soon relieved to discover there were several other parents who felt the same way…which leads me to my next point…

To travel or not to travel? You have options.
In Omaha, alone, we have more than five clubs which, on average, have three teams in each age group. We are a short trip down I-80 from one of the most successful college volleyball programs in the country, a direct consequence is a lot more competitive youth volleyball clubs. Regionally, the Midwest is oozing with clubs and competition to play.

There’s a pressure to travel so that you don’t have to play the same teams over and over again.

Here’s a fun math equation: If a collegiate volleyball player plays for four years, she’ll play the same opponents at least eight times. So, playing the same teams repetitively is not such a bad idea. There’s a learned behavior to scouting teams repetitively played, and making adjustments when you play them again.

With that said, maybe you and your volleyball athlete and team want to travel. The larger tournaments do have a plus side. When your daughter walks into a convention center filled wall-to-wall with over 200 courts, it’s kind of a big deal. That they can be part of a greater competition has significant impact on their level of competition and focus.

Leslie's daughter, Lucy, attacking at the net. Photo courtesy of Bob Safar.

Leslie’s daughter, Lucy, with an attack at the net. Photo courtesy of Bob Safar.

Understand that you don’t understand the game. Whether volleyball is new to you, or you played “a few years ago,” believe me, the game has changed a bit. For example:

“Hunny, poor Susie wore the wrong color, someone needs to tell her!” Don’t wonder out loud why one of your daughter’s teammates has a different colored jersey on. You might as well ask your kid in front of your techy boss to show you those emoji thingies on your phone again. Don’t embarrass yourself like that. Ask your daughter in private how to pronounce “libero” and that will start the conversation for you.

Did you know? The volleyball libero is a defensive specialist position in indoor volleyball. The position was added to the game in 1999 along with special rules for play in order to foster more digs and rallies. The libero remains in the game at all times and is the only player not limited by rules of rotation. She usually replaces the middle blocker position when they rotate to the back row and never rotates to the front row herself. c/o

Refrain from yelling at the ref when someone taps the net. Rules fluctuate from school to club, to different leagues, regions, and tournaments. So, this rule is frustrating. But as far as I can tell, if touching the net advanced the game, they call it against the offending net toucher. If it’s a sly touch on the net that does not hinder nor advance the game, the ball stays in play. Look, I hate this rule, too. But I also hate how carbs make my butt big. I don’t cry and whine about it every time I’m eating cake. See where I’m going with this, y’all?

It’s always rally score. You don’t need to serve to earn the point anymore. I tried to tell you – things have changed.

She’ll learn more than playing the game – Your daughter will learn to referee, line judge, keep the books, and keep score. This of course offsets costs for tournaments and games. But more importantly, and completely intentionally, your daughter is learning effective communication skills, volleyball call motions, how to make a quick judgment calls under pressure, applying the rules of the game, respect for other teams, how to keep stats, make substitutions, all while not playing, but while refereeing the game. Unfortunately, she’ll get a ridiculous lesson in idiot parents with a checkbook and loud mouths who think they know better. She’ll learn composure.

No other competitive youth sport empowers their athletes to learn the game and respect the game through refereeing the game.

So stick around. In time management of a tournament, plan on your daughter being at the very last game. Don’t try to skedaddle from a tournament early after her team has lost. The losing team referees. The whole team stays until the last game is over.

Even if you’re 100% right, and you just know it, yelling at a ref or a kid is 100% wrong.
Don’t be the idiot parent with a checkbook and a loud mouth who thinks you know better. For goodness sake, you just asked what a libero was! Before you yell at a kid making a line judge call, remember that could be your kid out there. Have as much faith in the refereeing team as you have in your daughter.

Teach your daughter about Title IX and gratitude.
Learn about Title IX. Whether you were a female athlete or you’re a dad who’s new to the female sporting world supporting your daughter, or you’ve just discovered that indeed, they’re letting the dang females play sports – you’re benefiting from Title IX. Chances are, your daughter’s coach played in college – because of Title IX. Which means she has experience, motivation, and inspiration to teach your daughter.

Learn to pepper.
Pepper is a term in volleyball when two players volley back and forth. It’s volleyball’s equivalent to “playing catch” or “shooting hoops.” Get an outdoor volleyball and learn to pepper. This has been the single best advice I was given. It’s repetition and ball control practice with your child. But mostly, it’s a humbling experience as to how hard the game really is. It’ll make you think twice before yelling something stupid at a game. When Lucy and I started out, just getting two consecutive contacts was a challenge. Lucy had to adjust, hustle, and move her feet to compensate for my lack of ball control. And she talks to me and appreciates my willingness to play with her. That, or she just feels really sorry for me and my lack of coordination. Either way, it’s a delightful bonding experience.

As you can see, there are a lot of specific club volleyball tips, and then a few replays for parenting a select or club athlete.  Whether you’re new to the sport, or just needed a reminder, I hope you take a chance to learn the game!

Written by Leslie Murrell

Anyone who has followed my ramblings for any considerable amount of time has likely seen a dramatic shift from me telling “kids do the darndest things” stories to me being hyper-focused on youth sports and the role parents play in them. The reason for that is because my husband and I have three developing athletes in our household and I’ve racked up countless hours on the sidelines watching them learn how to play several sports.

I haven’t been the only one on the sidelines. Many of you have said you can relate to my observations, which proves my personal accounts reflect a much larger epidemic. Some of you have shared stories with me that I can’t believe are actually true due to the absurdity of them all.

What I’ve come to discover – the main reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – is that we, as parents and promoters (I’d lump coaches and league administrators into this latter category), are all bound and determined to help position our kids on the best path for short- and long-term success.

We look for coaches we believe will teach our children how to play the game and enable them to maximize their potential. We hand over down payments to secure our “spot” on the team. We buy sports equipment and uniforms per league standards. We fundraise for tournaments and hotel costs. We shuttle them to practices and games all the while giving unsolicited advice on how to improve. We sit through pre-game warmups and day-long tournaments. We celebrate victories and agonize over defeats. We forfeit vacations for the greater good of the team. We live through our kids.

Re-reading what I just typed makes me understand why my friends who don’t have kids in organized sports think all of us who do should just make it official and form a community called Crazytown…population: too many.

I have learned first-hand over the last several years that adults tend to muddy up the youth sporting experience. Some parents fall into the “things we don’t know we don’t know” category when it comes to their involvement in their child’s athletic journey.

You don’t know you are making an ass out of yourself by yelling and foaming at the mouth like a ravenous dog (because you think it’s ok to argue a bad call with an official to prove a point).

You don’t know that your constant berating is not helping – but rather hurting – your kid and your kid’s teammates (because you think it’s a motivation tactic to get them to work harder and play better).

You don’t know that, by bad mouthing kids who are late bloomers and by excessively praising early developers, you are not helping either group in the long-run (because that’s the only way you can ensure a winning record year after year).

I had a customer recently contact me asking if he could purchase a GiveTheGameBack t-shirt for one of his acquaintances and have me mail it anonymously. I was more than happy to oblige.

After all, you don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes all it takes is for someone to give you the gift of perspective.

Order online for someone who needs a little perspective.

Order online at for someone who needs a little perspective.

It's about time we started calling a spade a spade.

It’s about time we started calling a spade a spade, right?

Written by Heidi Woodard


Extra commentary for those who like to read:

I was tempted to start things off with the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This popular phrase might be a bit too ambiguous for some, since people tend to interpret it differently.

It could mean that we, as humans, have natural limitations in what we are able to mentally absorb: I don’t know how to speak Spanish because I haven’t taken classes since high school nor have I lived among people who speak the language fluently.

It could also mean there are gaps in our intellect that we aren’t even aware exist. At this point in my life, I am completely unaware of some of the knowledge that I am missing.

Let me further explain where I’m headed by offering up another saying – a quote that’s attributed to Donald Rumsfeld. The end of which observes that there are unknown unknowns in life, that is, those things we don’t know we don’t know.

unknown unknowns quote

I would imagine I share a goal with many of you: To reduce the amount of unknown unknowns in my life by expanding my mind and perspective, not only through study but also through personal experience.