Parents: Show up, and shut up.
That was the main message from high school athletes from around the Four Corners region who attended Tuesday mornings student session at the inaugural Southwest Colorado Sports Symposium the second of four total sessions designed to bring together administrators, athletes, coaches, officials and parents to examine and improve the state of youth sports and the surrounding sporting culture.
Hosted at Fort Lewis Colleges student union, the two-day symposium grew out of a cooperative concern among local area athletic directors over the influence of ESPN culture in high school athletics and included leadership sessions, motivational speakers and lots of discussion to try and address issues of sportsmanship in local schools.
Ask the kids, and theyll tell you that parents are the high school sports cultures biggest problem.
Parents need to take a step back, Durango High School freshman Laura Lieb said at Tuesdays student session.
In small-group breakout sessions, athletes from Bayfield, Durango, Ignacio and Pagosa Springs agreed that too many parents meddle in their kids athletic affairs.
Theyre not the athletes anymore, said DHS student-athlete Lauren Milliet, critiquing constant bombardment on the part of overinvolved parents. Its better for parents to be really supportive because they dont know the pressure thats on the kids anymore.
Intrusive parents weave a messy web of team politics over issues such as which athletes get playing time that ensnares and injures individual athletes and leaves teams divided.
It causes a lot of drama and kind of separates the team, Lieb said. Everybody has to be a family and work together.
That drama includes yelling from the sidelines at coaches, players and referees something that interrupts your play one way or the other from parents living through their kid, Durangos Jessica Sigillito said.
Its a lot about (the team) family, and when your parents get involved it rips you apart, Milliet said.
Further drama also includes constant criticism of coaching and play, as well as refusing to let kids work through team issues on their own a critical element of maturing, Lieb said, and just one life lesson that good athletic experiences teach.
Dont let your parents fight your battles for you, said Emily McCue, another DHS athlete.
Its like letting your parents do a science project for you, Lieb said an unfairness tantamount to cheating, in the words of Bayfield High School football player Wyatt Williams.
And with too much drama, kids start to wish their parents just wouldnt show up at all which, for many, was the other half of sports parenting problem.
The small groups of about 60 total athletes wrote lists, in which many complained about the under-invested parent, too.
Just show up, the kids said. Come and show pride the right way, Lieb said: Be there to cheer, clap and support.
Home and opposing teams alike notice whose parents act like poor sports and whose parents never show up to competitions, Milliet said, and both speak volumes about those people.
The way parents act shows their character, and then their character reflects on you and the team, Milliet said.
Be proud of your kids; it goes a long way.
The coaches afternoon session input almost was identical to that of their athletes, as about 30 coaches from area schools discussed their dream parent and parent pet peeves, among them denigrating kids, coaching from the sideline or stands, undermining coaching technique and trying to live through their childs exploits on the court or field.
And parents looking to write off the criticism from their offspring as naive or from coaches as self-serving might listen to former Denver Christian head boys basketball coach Dick Katte, who after 52 years of coaching, seven state championships and an overall record of 873-233 has learned a thing or two ... and seen plenty of things change.
The biggest thing that has changed: The kids havent changed, but parents have, Katte said after giving a speech to the coaches about how to grow young athletes of character.
Parents these days often no longer care about the well-being of the team, Katte said, only that of their own kid and their kids stat line.
Sometimes that focus comes in pursuit of college scholarship money; sometimes its the worst thing so they can brag about their kid, Katte said.
Hes not the only one thats sensed that shift. The kids have, too. Good parents, the athletes said, learn about their teammates.
Theyre not only there for their kid; theyre there for the whole team, DHS student-athlete Sarah Bates said.
True to its stated purpose to work on creating a better environment for all stakeholders in youth sports, as DHS athletic director Sheldon Keresey put it the symposium stakeholders came up with plenty of solutions to their complaints, too.
Let them fail, Katte said about young athletes.
If I can teach you to work hard and that some things you cant control, parents need to learn that, too, he said, nodding to advice he earlier gave coaches.
Bloom where you are planted, he told both the coaches and players groups.
Robin Duffy-Wirth, mother of the Skyhawks 2011 national championship goalkeeper Ryan Wirth, said shes been there.
In 2010, Wirth, an FLC walk on from Bayfield High School, struggled to find playing time on a strong Skyhawks squad.
The hardest thing I ever had to do was watch my kid be benched, Duffy-Wirth said.
We need to be the parent we want to be, and thats hard work sometimes.
Its really hard to do the right thing when your kid is involved. ... I really wanted to scream because my heart was hurting.
But she didnt. Instead, Duffy-Wirth advised parents to get involved with the team through events like hosting team dinners and getting to personally know the coach in her case, FLC head coach Oige Kennedy.
Oiges going to kill me for this, Duffy-Wirth said of the two-time national champion coach. I hugged him after every game.
We cant afford to be afraid of our coaches.
Its also critical, she said, to remember that every athlete playing time or not contributes to the success or failure of the team at-large and by doing so, learns by walking their own path, echoing Kattes earlier advice.
Everyone has been uniquely planted, he said.
After a leadership session, the student-athletes lists of the bad and good elements from their coaches and parents were passed along to their coaches and parents, along with similar critiques and suggestions put together by referees from their Monday night session at DHS.
The athletes and coaches input also was passed on to parents during their Tuesday night session, which included a breakout from Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Commissioner J.R. Smith on the realities of college recruitment.
Tuesday afternoon, BHS athletic director Dave Preszler, who helped organize the symposium, said he thought the first manifestation of the event had gone extremely well.
Its refreshing to hear the four major stakeholder groups in youth sports communicating together to try to build a better culture, he said.
All the groups are wired differently, so theres mental walls that can go up, Preszler said. We have to make sure there are no walls; we have to make sure we understand each other.
After a successful first year, Preszler said the organizers plan to put their heads together with the information theyve gotten this week, start planning next years symposium and keep the communication, criticism and suggestions flowing especially from the student-athletes.
What the kids said here is a gift to the parents, Duffy-Wirth said. Because we can all learn from it.