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Book Review:
How to Win at Sports Parenting

By Matthew Arnold Stern

What exactly is a "sports parent"? Where we live in South Orange County, California, most of us have been "sports parents" for at least a short time. Who hasn't brought the post-game Capri Sun drinks and Oreo packages?

We get our kids involved in sports for different reasons. Some of us want to pry our kids away from the TV and video game console for a while and get some exercise. Some of us want our kids to learn how to work well with others and handle competition. Some of us see talent in our children and want to develop it. But all of us want our kids to enjoy the benefits of sports and avoid the youth sports horror stories we often hear in the news.

Jim and Janet Sundberg's book may be called How to Win at Sports Parenting, but it is really about winning as a parent overall. It could apply just as well to any endeavor a child pursues, whether it is dance, Scouting, or school. The book is clearly written, offers sound advice, and forces us to look at our behavior without judging too harshly.

For starters, the book describes how our behavior from the stands can benefit or hurt children. We may not be conscious of how our children perceive our game-day behavior. (We may not be even conscious of it ourselves.) But our children are affected by what we say or do, even if we say nothing. After reading one section, my son told me that my loud cheering distracted him when he played. I will be more careful not to do that next time.

The book shows that the key to success with children is building the right type of communication. Here too, we parents aren't always aware of the effect our words have on our children. We may think our post-game critiques benefit them, when it may actually make them feel discouraged and self-doubting. As parents, we need to let our children know that we love them unconditionally, whether they win or lose. We also need to develop more open communication with our children.

The book also encourages us parents to take a more balanced approach to sports. It warns against living vicariously through our children's sports successes and that we should look at the coach's perspective before we chew him or her out for not giving our child enough play time. 

Whether you are shuttling your children to baseball or choir practice, this book can help you relate to them better, be aware of behaviors that can help or hurt them, and improve your communication with them. When we can do that, we can win at parenting both on and off the field.

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