In the interest of full disclosure, I am a high school sports parent. That's why I requested Jim Thompson's The High School Sports Parent: Developing Triple Impact Competitors. I was anxious for some words of wisdom from Coach Thompson on how to avoid being that jerk parent court-side, rink-side, poolside, or balance-beam side.
I have been, am, and will continue to be a sports parent for some time. As a mother of a high school sophomore who rows crew and two 8th grade swimmers, I will be a high school sports parent for four and one-half years. But who's counting. One of my 8th graders is a nationally ranked swimmer, and I anticipate all kinds of problems as he goes into high school. The gentle jokes, jibes and blanket statements about how my son was going to this coach or that coach's school seemed to start back in the pre-k days. I came to this book with high hopes.
I looked to The High School Sports Parent for guidance on how to balance the more-important academics of high school with the also important sports career of the teenager. Although I found Mr. Thompson's book to be more oriented toward the more popular sports – football, baseball, etc, it contained many useful guidelines on sports parenting. Basically, the message is stay out of the coach's way and do what's best for your child in the ways you can. It's Common Sense: The Sports Pamphlet.
The "triple impact competitor" of the subtitle is the high school athlete who is making herself/himself better through sports while at the same time, contributing to the team and contributing to the sport altogether. While the student is busy doing this, what is the parent to do? How does the parent maintain an eye on the big picture? Mr. Thompson describes specific yet simplistic protocols, complete with bold type and bullet points, to help helpless parents become "second goal" parents: "parents who let coaches and athletes worry about winning. Parents have a much more important role: focusing on teachable moments and life lessons that their kids can take away from sports."
This, of course, sounds ideal. I want the school team to win, I am as competitive as the next hockey dad, but I also want my children to have success and at the same time to rein myself in from being a helicopter parent. However, as a parent, I am obligated to keep a watchful eye on coaches, coaches like Jim Thompson. Sometimes these other adults in your young adults' lives don't always have the children's long-term interests at heart. A high school championship is for one year. A coach's job may depend upon it. The physical and emotional impact of reaching for that championship can last a lifetime for the athlete. Everyone involved — coach, parent, athlete, administration — have different motivations.
Some sections, such as "How High School Sports Differs from Professional Sports," besides the problematic grammar, strike the reader as filler. I think, that most people, even the ones screaming at the coach, realize that high school sports differ from pro sports. Some of the most important discussions lie deep in the book such as Chapter 5: Avoiding the Talent Trap – Reality for the Scholarship Athlete. The National Collegiate Athletic Association cites that 6.1 percent of high school senior baseball players play baseball in college. And that's one of the highest percentages. This percentage doesn't indicate the extent of the scholarships either. Some of the most gifted swimmers we know received half-scholarships to schools that flattered and fawned the athlete all the way to the letter of intent.
This section alone should be required reading for any parent attending their freshman's fall sport information meeting. The basic reality of high school sports is this: "COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT" – capital letters my own. This crucial point is driven home by the author. If you and your child are in this for the scholarship, get out now, because it's not going to happen. And even if it does, all the expense of the sport up to that point will not justify the scholarship. You are spending money to save money.
The lessening economic viability of the college athletic scholarship will become even more so as college budgets tighten in the years ahead so it bears repeating: the road to a successful college experience is not through high school sports. As a parent of a college Division One athlete, it is hard to react correctly to the parents who clap me on the back at my youngest child's swim meets. They congratulate me on future collegiate scholarships. One parent used the words Texas and Stanford and scholarship in the same sentence. They are parents embarking on the high school journey, not the old, wizened creature I am with college age children. They don't know. And they can't hear my eyes rolling back in my head.
Another effective section in this book was how to fill your child's "emotional tank." This is one of the most important discussions in The High School Sports Parent because there is little you can do to affect your teen's play on the field, but there is much you can do to affect her emotional well-being. In fact, it's probably the most important thing you can do. Mr. Thompson offers more than usual practical advice on how to bolster your child's confidence in a truthful way. Truthful is the key word. Giving examples of positive constructive praise is one of the assets of this book.
In no small measure is this a propaganda pamphlet for Thompson's coaching clinics: The Positive Coaching Alliance. Coach Thompson travels the country offering seminars to high school coaches on just how to help the athlete become a "triple impact competitor." If your child's coach doesn't see beyond the scoreboard, fear not, being a second goal parent is even more important, and Mr. Thompson sees his methods becoming even more indispensable. This is not as self-serving as it may seem. There is a lot of self-promotion here, but isn't that the nature of athletics? Competition and winning. Staging the most coaching clinics and selling the most parenting manuals.
A couple of topics missing in this slim volume are the impact of club teams on the high school athlete and generally the stressed -out aspect of the contemporary high school athlete.
Beginning with the club team, which is discussed on only one page of the book, I know of very few athletes who are primarily high school athletes. They may identify themselves as such, but lurking in the background is the club team. Most athletes have year round sports now, and the high school is only a part of that. Lacrosse in the winter. Basketball in the spring and the summer. Swimming, tennis, gymnastics are all year long. A chapter, rather than a page, on how to be a second goal parent to a teenager with a second coach might be useful. Some club coaches I know are openly antagonistic to high school coaches. It would be valuable to know the strategies for high school coaches to deal with this kind of offcourt competition. It is the athlete who is caught between the two opponents for his time. Coach Thompson advises to think "through the advantages and disadvantages of each, including playing for both teams." Well, yes, that is good advice, but then what?
Another chapter that would be invaluable is a look at the time pressures on the modern student. Every few months, a national discussion starts on the American teenager's overscheduled life. To save money, school districts start school days earlier and earlier, and it is the teenager on that red-eye bus. High school classes may start at 7:30 a.m. or even earlier. How does the student athlete survive under such sleep deprivation? Swimming, a sport infamous for unreasonable schedules, will have practice at 5:30 a.m. and then perhaps a second practice after school. This is an accepted schedule, these are not evil coaches with only winning in their hearts. It is hard to see how the student, with only so many hours in the day, can manage two practices, a full school day, homework, the requisite family dinner, and still get the recommended 9 hours of sleep.
Time management, cost, winning, losing, high school, these are all issues that thankfully last only four years, but what an important four years. I am mulling this over, writing this review, re-reading the chapter on injuries with some irony. I sit in the emergency room, waiting for the orthopedist to examine my son's ankle for a possible fracture. He injured his leg in a modified middle school football game. It amazes me that his school district, which cries poverty every year, fields a football team and yet, here I sit. Sports are so important.
My oldest son is swimming in a Division One program. Far from being on scholarship, he is a walk-on that is costing us a fortune. It is something that we wouldn't trade for the world. When he received "Freshman of the Year" award for his hard work, not for his talent, that was a moment of being. And that is the heart of Mr. Thompson's book. It is the quality of the sports experience that is most important. Not the quantity of medals.