Be All In
By Greg Bach
Helping young athletes squeeze the most out of their participation – while scooping up all-important life lessons along the way – is as challenging as ever for parents these days.
Managing emotions during games, navigating the post-game car ride home, keeping expectations realistic, and trusting coaches are just some of the many areas moms and dads must handle along their child’s journey.
“The path to success is different for everybody,” says soccer legend Christie Pearce Rampone, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time World Cup Champion, and co-author with Dr. Kristine Keane of Be All In: Raising Kids for Success in Sports and Life. “I wanted to do this book to give back through all my experiences as a mother, coach and athlete. I wanted to help educate parents, have an open discussion, and help give guidelines.”
Pearce Rampone is a mom of two who coaches youth soccer and basketball, and she knows how emotions can spill over at youth sporting events, wrecking game day experiences. The youth sports landscape is littered with horrific stories of out-of-control behavior among adults, a topic addressed in the opening pages of the book.
“You have parents fighting with the other sideline, yelling at their own child, yelling at their child’s teammates, blaming the refs and blaming the coach,” she says. “I feel like the climate is just getting out of control.”
For starters, the relationship between coaches and parents is paramount for a smooth-running season and to reduce the chances of bad behavior springing up.
“It really comes down to trust,” she says. “Parents start to get emotional when they don’t feel like their child is in the right environment to succeed. So it’s trusting what the coach’s true intentions are, and that’s trying to make each individual athlete better. And when you can trust and respect the person in charge you can see parents kind of loosening up a little bit.”
And as she writes in the book’s Introduction: Young athletes today are under so much pressure, and too often it’s being applied in the wrong places. Kids don’t need parents coaching them from the sidelines in the middle of a play; they need parents who can help them set their intentions on the car ride to the competition. Kids don’t need parents who speak for them; they need parents to teach them to advocate for themselves and manage their priorities. But those skills don’t come if a kid is taught that the only thing that matters is the final score. My greatest hope is that reading this book gives you the tools you need to help the athletes in your life thrive.
In the first of our two-part series with the authors, we delve into some of the many topics covered in this terrific work with Pearce Rampone, the most decorated American professional soccer player – male or female – of all time:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How do you handle the car ride home with your kids?
PEARCE RAMPONE: We take a break on the car ride home. I always look at that as a transitional moment. We’re all emotional – as coaches, parents and athletes – and everybody has different views on the game. It’s not silence, but we just don’t talk about the game until usually later in the day around dinner time when we’ll self-reflect and talk about it if that’s what my daughter wants to do. But the car ride home is not the time to talk about the game because most of the time the athlete is not going to listen, or it will cause more emotion and more fighting between athlete and parent.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: So many kids are afraid to make mistakes during games, which affects their performance and enjoyment of the sport. How do you handle this issue with your young athletes?
PEARCE RAMPONE: The one thing I always say to my athletes when they step on the field to compete is that they are going to make mistakes. We strive to be excellent, not perfect, and I think as a young athlete everyone tries to be so perfect. The ego kicks in and they are embarrassed to make mistakes, but the more you can communicate and say ‘it’s OK,’ I think they start to understand it and they are less critical of themselves and they can self-reflect and realize that even one moment is not going to make or break how they feel about how they played in a game.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should kids be playing a variety of sports or specializing in one?
PEARCE RAMPONE: I definitely encourage playing multiple sports. I believe hearing different voices from coaches, being in different environments, and having to adapt to different personalities with teammates provides room to grow. I credit being a multiple-sport athlete to making it to the National Team.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How valuable is it for young athletes to experience setbacks and learn from those disappointments?
PEARCE RAMPONE: My dad would always tell me that you’re only as good as your last game. You can have a brilliant game, but you still have to get back to work and have that growth mindset to continue to learn and grow. You will have those bumps in the road and it’s how you react to them. I say to the kids all the time that it’s OK to be emotional, but then it’s how do you react to it? You just have to get up the next day and continue on and try and improve and take those mistakes and turn them into a learning lesson. And obviously at the higher levels you have video content to help you get through that where you’re like, ‘ok, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought’ or ‘wow, that was really bad.’ And then you have to self-reflect and learn from that and move forward.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Out of control parental behavior continues to be a big problem in youth sports, so as a youth coach how do you approach that issue?
PEARCE RAMPONE: It’s asking the individual parents to just kind of take a step back and be aware of their actions and emotions and realize their child is watching and you’re the role model. Normally you will see a correlation with how the child is acting on the field compared to how the parent is acting.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the message you aim to deliver to your players before games?
PEARCE RAMPONE: Leading up I always say that we have to try and train at game speed as one of the main messages. When you are in that environment all the time it just becomes second nature and you just step on the field and you’re used to that speed of play and those pressures to compete. But I always tell my athletes before they step on the field on game day that right now you’re not going to get fitter and you’re not going to get technically better, but you’ve got all the knowledge in your head so just go out and have fun and whatever happens we learn from it and we move on. So they know that there’s no need to be fearful of the opponent. I always tell them nerves are good because it means that you care, but this is the time to go out and perform. You’re an entertainer at that point; entertain your parents and have some fun and then we’ll get back to work on the weekdays.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the key for youth coaches to have positive relationships with the parents of their players?
PEARCE RAMPONE: Just make sure that everybody has bought into the exact game plan, and that means communication from the top down from the coaching staff to the parents, and then to the players, of what style of play you expect out of your team. If you’re in a development part where you may be losing more games than they would like, it’s communicating the why behind what you are doing and the game plan and then just enjoying it together. We have some team mission statements on our team of parents trusting the coaching staff so there’s no coaching from the sidelines. There’s encouragement and cheering, but it’s for every player, not just your child. And when you see one big unit work together it’s absolutely amazing.
Christie Pearce Rampone
Dr. Jennifer Etnier, professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of Coaching for the Love of the Game, on helping volunteer coaches be positive difference makers for young athletes
Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Founding Executive Director of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation
Dr. Kristine Keane, co-author of the new book Be All In: Raising Kids for Success in Sports and Life, shares all-important insight on concussions, specialization, and more
Lauren Johnson, Mental Conditioning Coordinator for the New York Yankees, on helping young athletes thrive amid the stress and struggles that accompany competing in sports