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Are you that basketball parent?

Are you that basketball parent?
January 12
14:36 2022

By KP Brabham

Not too long ago I attended a basketball tournament in Oak Ridge, N.C. I sat as a bystander in the stands while two middle school girls’ teams battled for the win. For the most part, both teams had athletes who were quick, aggressive, tough, intentional, and at times characteristically calm and matter-of-fact toward the game officials’ calls. I remembered thinking very early on in the game that the tension and emotions in the gym were way too high. Although I’ve told my own kids to play every game as if it was the championship, the girls on the court were not the problem; their parents sitting in the stands absolutely were.

My family began with tiny tot basketball at the former Reynolds Park Recreation Center, later renamed as the WR Anderson Center, located in the southside of Winston-Salem. A product of my own environment, I, like every other passionate parent packed into that tiny gym, had a lot to say during my kids’ games. Without much reservation, we were yelling, cheering, complaining, boosting, and demeaning anyone who we believed deserved it.

But life changed for me somewhere between my oldest daughter’s end of 5th grade year and the start of her 6th grade year. My daughter, though small in stature, weakened many ankles as point guard on co-ed teams during her runs at the recreation center. But time came for us to move on, and we did so by becoming a part of the Winston Salem Stealers (AAU) Girls Basketball Organization. The Stealers’ organization is a program designed to develop the whole player through skills, technique, commitment, training, trust, etc. Surprisingly, I found out that the program was not just about the player but also about me, the parent.

The first time I sat in a full parent meeting and listened to the direction and advice given by program director Coach Brian Robinson of Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School located in Kernersville, I was torn. Coach R, as he is fondly called, spelled out the dos and don’ts for parents on and off the court. Initially I said, “He has to be kidding me,” but I continued to listen intently. Overall, his points made a lot of sense to me. I could afford to clean up my ballgame disposition.

Along with making personal adjustments, soon thereafter my daughter balanced successful middle school basketball at Summit School and AAU basketball with the Stealers, followed by an undefeated 8th grade season at Quality Education Academy. I can say through those middle school years, I never found myself acting as those parents did in Oak Ridge. It was not because I cared any less or was too embarrassed to be the loudest in the gym, but I was taught a set of principles that made the difference. I chose not to be that parent distracting the girls on the court. I did not want to be the parent coaches dreaded to see coming, nor did I want to be that parent college coaches frown upon amongst themselves.

Kids playing high-level basketball in middle school are not uncommon, but they don’t come a dime a dozen. That means, allow your 6th, 7th, and 8th grade player to play in the game with your encouragement versus your complaints and discontentment. If you feel moved to stand up in the stands during the game, say something encouraging. Don’t be that parent who urges the game officials to make one-sided calls.

In seven full calendar years with the Stealers, I served as team coordinator for three of those years. We traveled for weeks at a time, occupying several hotels to compete in high-level tournaments. All that structure gave me respect, agility, dedication, motivation, understanding, and patience. For what, at that very moment I wasn’t sure, but as the weeks turned into months, and months into years passed, I realized the Stealers’ program taught me how to cultivate standards I’m proud of as a parent sitting in the stands today.

When high school basketball was on the to-do list, yes it was more difficult to maintain the necessary control, but I knew I had to stick to my teachings. I sat in many tournaments and watched parents be escorted out of the gym, players fighting fueled by instigating parents, and officials flipping the game because one parent went too far. The college coaches sitting along the sidelines were completely distracted and now recruiting was no longer of interest over the drama put on by the parents.

I challenge you to self-reflect and be honest with yourself about who you are as a basketball parent. Are you that welcomed parent or the one who needs to just stay at home? Are you embarrassing your child and yourself or are you cultivating positive character? Even more important, is your parent enthusiasm carrying over into the classroom, aiding in securing your child’s academic future? If there’s an imbalance in your response, it’s time to regroup. If you’re that feisty, argumentative parent, it’s time to regroup. 

I know from personal experiences how it is to be that parent, deeply involved in the heat of the basketball battle. But the fact remains that you as the parent are also being recruited. Even in middle school basketball, high school coaches scout games to see what level of new talent will enter 9th grade. If coach witnessed you yelling and sideline-coaching your kid the entire game, calling your kid’s name, openly complaining about the coach, and debating with the officials, why would that coach want your kid and your family a part of his or her program? Coaches don’t want combative parents who try to direct their program from behind the scenes.

Also, scouting coaches aren’t always visible to parents and players or may be dressed in minimum paraphernalia and undistinguished from a fan. Because you don’t know, it’s even more important to maintain composure, don’t spend the entire game telling the team what they’re doing wrong, sending notes to your kid during timeouts, nor encouraging your player to take forced shots to attempt to be a standout to the coaches. Coaches are watching you as much as they’re watching the player. It’s great to win, but winning is not the single factor in your player obtaining looks or offers from coaches. I witnessed a game when both teams were being rude and disrespectful to each other. The coaches were irate, the game officials were being attacked after every call, and the parents were on their feet, merging out of the stands. My family was on the neighboring court with college coaches roped-off on the sidelines who no longer watched our game but were completely focused on the angry parents. Eventually the tournament director called the game and the parents were asked to exit immediately. In acknowledgment, game officials aren’t perfect and will make mistakes on calls, but as a parent in the stands, what can you really do about it besides complain and draw attention to yourself?

I recall another tournament I attended in Hershey, Pennsylvania, when the game official made what we thought was a poor call that had great potential to influence the outcome of the game. The group of parents I sat with all gasped and responded with “oh no’s” followed by “next play. ” Our team went on to the next play, recovered, and won the game. As my family headed to the car, a college coach commented as we passed each other, “Yeah that was a bad call he made,” then grinned with a little laugh. I didn’t see the coach during the game, which made it magnificent that I had no negative reaction to the call. I didn’t allow my emotions to taint the coach’s perception of my daughter and her family.

Moments such as those and many more added to my appreciation for Coach R’s methods and parent leadership. Do I think without the Stealers’ program would I be a different person today? Certainly. I knew at the Oak Ridge tournament who hadn’t had “the talk” and I could identify a few players from the teams who would be scratched off the interest list just because their moms or dads were confrontational.

The basis for this message is not to point a finger, but yet it is to point a finger. Parents, we must act better to be better. Let’s realize in middle school the journey is still a long way from there—don’t exhaust yourself. Once the high school opportunities shift priorities, don’t lose focus of the foundation of academic excellence and just character on and off the court.

Evaluate the dos and don’ts of basketball parent etiquette before your next tournament to strengthen the chances of your kid playing on the next level, because I’m looking forward to joining you in the stands!  Best of luck!

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