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Lower Merion grad Dr. Joel Fish talks about sports parenting

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Dr. Joel Fish

Nationally-renowned sport psychologist Dr. Joel Fish is a Lower Merion High School graduate and a recent inductee into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. As director of The Center For Sport Psychology in Philadelphia for the past 25 years, he has worked with athletes of all ages and skill levels, from youth sports through the Olympic and professional ranks. Dr. Fish wrote a book “101 Ways To Be a Terrific Sports Parent”, and over the past decade has written articles on various sports psychology issues for the Main Line Times & Suburban, and Main Line Media News. In this article, Dr. Fish (a father of three) talks about several issues relating to sports parenting.

Q: Should a parent encourage their child to play as many sports as possible?

A: As a parent, I can say the youth sports landscape is so much different than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. One thing I think parents need to do first is examine their own attitudes about winning, losing, failure, success and competition and not try to project their own feelings, and their own youth sports career experiences, onto their kids. While the vast majority of parents are well-intentioned, they really need to keep their antennae up regarding their child’s feelings, and know the personality of their child. You can’t paint all kids with a broad brush.

Q: Can you elaborate on this?

A: While some kids are really into one sport, thrive on playing one sport, and can’t get enough of playing that sport, other kids in that age 8-18 bracket might be physically ready but not emotionally ready for the expectations that develop from focusing on one sport. For example, it’s important to notice personality changes in your child that may indicate stress. . Also, if a child is normally outgoing but becomes withdrawn before a big competition; if your child complains about not feeling well even though there’s nothing physically wrong with them; excess stress manifests itself in a lot of different ways.

While I wouldn’t advocate either the side of focusing on just one sport, or playing multiple sports, there is a lot of evidence in various studies over the years that show the benefits of playing multiple sports – in gaining the coordination necessary in different sports; socially, meeting people on different teams; and in terms of enthusiasm – burnout is not as much of an issue when you’re playing multiple sports.

Q: You’ve emphasized that sports is a great place to learn life skills – goal-setting, dealing with frustration, working for a common goal with others, learning that you can’t always get what you want, developing thicker skin, developing coping skills, and learning to work on what you can control. One control issue is the coach-player relationship. What is the parent’s role in a coach-player conflict regarding such things as playing time and other issues?

A: It somewhat depends on the age level of the child. At age 8-12, the parent has a right to advocate for the child, but it’s really helpful for the parent to get a second opinion regarding, say, how the coach is talking to his or her child. Sometimes, it’s hard for a parent to be objective.

It’s important for the parent to pick the right time to talk to the coach, and to do it from a place of clarification rather than anger – not to get in the coach’s face right after the game. It’s like talking to your child’s teacher – you don’t barge in demanding answers.

If your child is high school age, then it’s more about teaching the child how to communicate with the coach. This involves some role-playing, asking your child, “How are you going to talk to the coach?”

For more information, contact Dr. Fish at 215-735-6280, centerforsportpsychology@gmail.com, or follow The Center For Sport Psychology on Facebook.

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