Parents on the Field: Volunteering Your Time in Team Sports

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Does your child get a "kick" out of soccer? Is he fired up about football? Would she rather run the bases than sit in the bleachers?

If your child is a sports enthusiast, you may find yourself scheduling your own agenda around team pictures, fund raisers, Saturday afternoon games and season-end parties. You will be slicing oranges for half-time snacks, cheering from the sidelines and -- despite a hectic carpool schedule for practice sessions -- be proud of yourself that nobody's ever been misplaced.

Just when you think you are in the swing of things, you may find yourself at the receiving end of the question: "Next season, will you be the team parent of my team?" The term "team parent" is a non-threatening synonym of "team manager," also known as a management position without the luxury of a paycheck, 401(k) and weekends off.

Crystal Cook of Knoxville, Tenn. recalls hearing the sighs of relief from fellow parents this past fall when she volunteered to be the team parent of her son's American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) soccer team.

"When the coach asked for a parent to volunteer for the team parent position, everyone was afraid to move," says Cook. "It reminded me of being at an auction where someone accidentally bids on an item."

The duties of the team parent include ordering trophies, making arrangements for team photos, scheduling drinks and snacks for the games, delivering messages about postponed or canceled games or practices and organizing the end-of-season party.

"In essence, doing everything except coaching," Cook says.

Cook has always played an active role in her son's sport activities. She has always been there for him with her chair in tow and water bottle at her side. When her son's coach was actively seeking a team parent volunteer, she says she thought, "What the heck," and raised her hand.

Teamwork for Team Sports

A team parent counts on teamwork from the parents of all players, as well as communication between all adults involved. Everyone should have a team roster listing the name and phone number of each player. Since most teams have a rotating snack schedule, the roster will come in handy if a parent who is scheduled to provide a snack finds it necessary to trade dates with another parent.

As a team parent, Cook recommends the following:

  • Give a courtesy call to the snack parent the day before they are scheduled to bring snack.
  • Encourage all parents to bring their child to picture day, even if they will not be purchasing a team picture (many teams provide this to each player via team funds).
  • Ensure that all parents have a schedule of practice sessions and games.
  • Plan a unique season-end party. Most teams end the season with a pizza party. Other ideas are a swim party, a meal at a buffet, a skate party, hayride, or hot dog cookout.
  • Season-end parties should include siblings as well as parents. Collect additional funds from each family if necessary.
  • Make sure each team member's name is spelled correctly on his or her trophy.Order trophies one month prior to the presentation date.
  • Remember that awarding a "Most Valuable Player" award can leave some children feeling left out.
  • Carry a clipboard to all practices/games and have extra copies of the schedules and other team info. Somebody always has a question.

Taking the Next Step

For the more adventurous, there's always a need for volunteer coaches. Even if your knowledge of a sport is limited to "The ball goes that way," most team organizations offer informative training sessions for anyone willing to donate their valuable time toward a good cause. If taught the right way, the benefits a child gets out of team sports are sportsmanship, teamwork, new friendships, a healthy atmosphere and a good time!

"The very fact that parents are willing to give their valuable time to assist with their child's team sports is in itself not a very good example unless they are also willing to put aside their own ego and not live vicariously through their child," says Sandy Caplinger, a regional commissioner for AYSO in Running Springs, California. "If the above can be accomplished and the parent displays positive mannerisms and promotes good sportsmanship, then the child will remember this and be thankful throughout their entire life."

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