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Getting Parents Involved in Daughters' Sports

QUESTION: How can I get parents more involved in their daughters' athletic development? I coach my granddaughter's softball team, and I find that girls whose parents never attend games often develop a laissez-faire attitude that affects team morale and performance. I get fed up with these parents and wonder why they are not taking their daughters' lives more seriously.

ANSWER: Your observation that girls reflect the attitude that their parents show toward their sports activities is accurate. Sadly, gender conditioning operates in subtle but significant ways that may discourage girls from taking their sports activities seriously. By not showing up to a child's games, parents send the message that this is not a very important activity. Likewise, lateness to sports practice and absenteeism are also more common for girls, and may be the result of lower prioritizing by parents, and in turn by the girls themselves.

Most parents would agree that building your child's self-esteem is in part a product of taking a respectful attitude toward the activities in which your child chooses to engage. Why would sports be any different? Some parents may unwittingly place their daughter's involvement in sports as secondary to a son's sports activities or to the girl's more traditionally "feminine" endeavors. Sports may be seen as a "side" activity for a girl, but an important and central part of a boy's development. Once parents understand the nature of this problem, it will become easier for them to see how their own behavior is a part of the solution.

Begin by educating both the parents and the players. Require a meeting of parents and players before the season begins. A potluck dinner at a parent's house can provide the atmosphere for a friendly information-gathering session. Bring books on the subject of self-esteem and the benefits of sports to girls' development. (Raising our Athletic Daughters by Zimmerman and Reavill is a good one!) Identify the cultural bias against girls taking sports seriously, and cite the evidence that girls who play sports tend to avoid many of the physical, psychological, and social pitfalls of adolescence.

It is a well-known fact that a key factor in a child's academic learning and school performance is the involvement and expectations of the parents. The same is true for sports. Let the parents of your players know that their presence or absence at games makes a difference not only in the attitude their child brings to the sport, but in the way they play the game!

After discussing the reasons for parental participation, clarify to parents what the expectations are for parental involvement. Consider a point system in which parents are rewarded for coming to all games. Perhaps you could give a parent trophy or certificate at the close of the season at the traditional celebratory pizza night. (Or even sanctions of extra duty for parents who miss more than a certain number of games!) This will not prevent girls from playing if their parents are absentee, but it will send the message to parents that their involvement is important to their daughter's development.

It is sometimes the case that a grandparent is able to see the bigger picture, while a parent's focus is more nearsighted. Do not judge these parents. Instead, offer them your wisdom, not only as a coach, but also as a grandfather!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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