You walk into a building. Blankets, camp chairs, tents and snacks while parents are sleeping, talking and eating with a circle of activity swirling around them. Wow……this looks like fun! Where am I? A school picnic? A family reunion? I can’t quite tell.
Surprise! I’m in the warm up area of a National championship sporting event. Who would know?! While athletes who are the very top in the country and the world at what they do, who have trained for hours and years for this one moment are warming up……..one parent sleeps in the camp chair, some coach is lounging in the corner, little siblings are chasing each other, the baby is in the stroller and that athlete is trying to dodge the traffic to warm up their most difficult tricks in a safe and effective way.
While we struggle to be identified as a sport and scoff at the Olympic sports we don’t think measure up as athletic as ours, we refuse to put the demands on our coaches and parents that other sports do. And, we look like a back yard activity at our own National championships.
Olympic parents spent weeks unable to see their child. They got a brief moment to hug and talk right after a big win and then the athlete was back where they should be; in the Olympic village where distractions were not allowed to interrupt their focus. Credentials are needed to access every venue, including warm up and performance areas. When you walk into the venue, there is no doubt as to who the coaches and athletes are, and where the spectators and supporters sit.
We need a solution. USTA cannot always man and do security at all the events. The responsibility begins with the coach. As a coach, we should be setting the guidelines for acceptable behavior of our parents. From the very beginning of attending competitions, our parents should know what is conducive to the event and their child, and what is not. As a gymnastic parent, I brought my child to the venue, she went in one door with her coach, I went in the admission door as a parent and I didn’t see my child up close, until after awards. I was the parent (even a parent with “skills” who choreographed routines and worked with the gymnasts). The coach let me know where I could and could not be and I dared not stray from that, even when she was a little one. Coach and athlete did their jobs in their place, while I did mine as parent, bill payer and biggest cheerleader for my child from the stands.
Our athletes have very long days. It is perfectly acceptable to have their training needs met. This includes; a comfortable area to rest between warm ups and performances, proper nutrition and a safe place to let down for a bit. If it’s on the borders of the practice area and out of the way, without becoming a distraction; it meets the needs of our athletes. What doesn’t meet the need is the parent who is unwilling to be in the stands, the bystanders who have nothing to do with the athlete’s immediate needs and the extra people using that area as a lounge, play or “hangout” area.
Having standards is a good thing. As a coach, we need to raise the standard of expectation to mean that our competitions are for athletes and coaches to train and execute, while parents support and applaud. If a parent is the coach, then the same expectations are set. I am proud to wear my credentials as a coach so that I am allowed on the floor. When a media person walks in and asks if I’m the Mom while walking around the warm up area, I am insulted. I am the coach. I am proud to be a Mom (to my own child) and a coach (to my students). But, in the gym there should be no doubt. I am there as a coach to my athlete. Look at the example set by the World’s finest. Coaches and athletes are focused on their job while parents are filmed in the stands as angst driven spectators!.
It’s time we, as coaches, set the standard for conditions that are optimal for our athletes by securing and limiting who is in the practice area. I know I coach a sport. I know my student is an athlete. I want to be supported by other participants in this activity that they respect our athlete’s needs as much as I do. My parents understand that I respect them in their role and I will coach their child through the competition. They understand it is not in their child’s best interest to be down on the floor. It takes trust. It takes commitment. And, it takes communication and designation of expectations.
Let’s raise our expectations for ourselves as professionals. Create an environment we can be proud of from all views of the competition. Give your athlete the best conditions possible for an outstanding athletic experience. Save the picnics and playtime for much better surroundings while preparing our athletes to do their best………always.