Mike Klinzing is Founder and Executive Director of Head Start Basketball (Cleveland, OH). Offering youth basketball camps and skills training for over 20 years, Head Start Basketball uses the game to improve character, develop leadership, and promote sportsmanship.
As a sports parent today we spend an awful lot of time in the car driving our kids to their practices. If you have more than one child participating in sport, chances are most nights of the week are spent in the gym or at the field. A question I get asked frequently is: How much of the practice should I watch?
Is it okay to watch every minute of the practice and keep an eye on what my child is doing? Should I be making sure the coach is adequately teaching the game and running a well-organized practice? Is it better to drop them off and go run some errands? Should I read a book or take a walk?
No one is sure what they should be doing.
I’ll share the pros and cons on both sides of the debate, give you my opinion, and let you determine what course of action is right for you and your child. Keep in mind that I am talking about youth basketball here, not high school varsity practices. There should be no need for you to attend a high school practice.
Reasons why you should watch practice.
#1 To get a feel for the coach or the program.
You should always watch at least part of the first practice, especially if it is your first experience with a new coach or program. As a parent, you want to see how the coaches interact with the players. Is the coach positive and supportive? Are they organized? Do they use praise or fear to get their point across? Do they make the practices fun for the players? These are all characteristics of a coach/program that you can observe within the first half hour of the session.
#2 Your child has a private lesson with a coach.
In these cases there should always be at least one other adult present other than the coach. Although it is rare, things do happen, even with coaches you may think you know well.
#3 Your young player is not completely comfortable at practices.
Maybe they are a little nervous or are very young. It may be reassuring for them to see you on the sidelines to help ease their mind and allow them to participate and have fun.
#4 Your child is returning from injury.
You may want to monitor the injury to make sure that your child is not returning to competition too soon. You will be in position to have input into their decision about whether they should continue to practice or if more rehab time is necessary.
#5 Your young player asks you to watch.
Maybe they want to show you something new they’ve learned. Maybe they just need some extra support. Maybe they are just excited to have Mom or Dad around that day. (It does happen!) If they ask, go watch.
#6 You are demonstrating ongoing support.
Show up and watch once in a while to check in and let your young player know that you care about them and what they are doing with basketball. They may not show it outwardly and may even make a face, but deep down they’re glad that you are there, even if they cannot express it in the moment.
#7 The coach asks you to stay and watch.
There may come a time where the coach wants you to see something that is happening in practice with your young player. If the coach makes the request, make time to sit in on practice and have a discussion regarding the issue with the coach.
#8 You are visiting with other parents.
As a result of the amount of time we spend with our kids’ sports we often become friends with other parents. You may want to hang around at practice just to catch up with people. Our connections with others make our lives richer. This can be a great opportunity to meet new people or build stronger friendships with those you already know.
Reasons why you should not watch practice.
#1 Your young player spends more time watching you than playing.
As a basketball coach I see this all the time. Kids make a play, particularly a mistake, and the first thing they do is look to the bleachers to see what Mom or Dad thought. This is not the way to achieve optimal performance. Or enjoyment. If your child is worried about your reaction and always looking at you in the stands, chances are they aren’t concentrating on the task at hand. If you are not watching practice they don’t develop the habit of looking for you in the stands.
#2 It leads to negative discussions.
“You should be paying attention out there!”; “You weren’t following through on your shot!”; “You need to hustle more!” If you find yourself making comments like this after practice, you are blurring the line between supportive parent and over-involvement. If you’re not there to see it (or if you are reading a book away from the court) you can’t comment on it.
#3 Young players should play for their teammates, coaches, and themselves – not for us.
Children naturally want our approval. When we are at practice watching closely, they tend to perform for us. Their coaches and teammates may want them to play a certain way and we as parents may disagree. Young players need to learn to win the approval of coaches and teammates. If it ever comes time for your young player to tell you they are finished with a sport, that conversation is much more difficult if you are totally enmeshed in their experience with the game. They may continue playing to please you rather than develop the intrinsic motivation it really takes to enjoy the sport.
#4 It hampers the child’s commitment to the team and sport.
When we as parents are too involved it takes away from a young player’s commitment to the team and the sport that ultimately must come from them. It must be a decision that they make. It can’t be our dream; it must be theirs. When we are at every practice, we don’t allow them to develop an identity as a basketball player or a teammate. Their participation may be defined by us as parents leading to burnout and dropping out of the game altogether.
#5 Your child may find it annoying.
How do you know if this is true? Ask them. In a serious way. You might be surprised by what you hear. Kids often feel pressure when you are there. I try to stay out of my kids’ sports. (Other than basketball, where I am the coach of their teams.)
#6 It’s harder to see improvement.
If you are there every day you will see the grind, but you may not notice the small incremental improvements that occur. Watching your young player struggle with concepts or skills over and over again is not good for either one of you. You may become frustrated and your child may be upset that they can’t “get it” and you are watching. Step away from practice and you’ll see the improvements come in larger, more noticeable chunks.
#7 You may think you know more than the coach.
Do you really? The coach most likely has more experience and knowledge of the game than you do. Plus, the coach is more objective about your child and the team than you are. Watching every day may give you a sense you know better. You don’t.
#8 It sends a message to your young player that you don’t trust the coaches to do a good job.
If you can’t miss a moment of practice your child may sense that you don’t approve of a coach’s methods or strategies. This can put a young player in a very uncomfortable position of having to choose between a parent and a coach.
#9 You probably have something better you could do for yourself.
As busy as parents of young children are, we could all benefit from that extra hour every night. Take a walk, read a book, get some work done. Don’t micro-manage your young player by watching every single moment of every single practice. Kids need to know they are not always at the center of our world. Parents are people too!
There are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of this discussion. Personally, I believe that parents should try to stay away from their child’s practice environment as much as possible. By doing so, you will be leaving more of the basketball experience in your child’s hands. The dream must by theirs, not yours.
There are legitimate reasons for you to stay and watch practice based on some of the reasons discussed above, but your young player will be more independent and grow more without you hovering over them at all times. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but I believe you should leave the practice environment to the players and coaches.