- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

Being picked to play on a select-level sports team can be an honor and a thrill for a young athlete.

It also can be intimidating for the parents, who have to navigate a new situation. A team, like any organization, has many personalities, a history, a leader and a hierarchy.

A little preparation can help smooth the transition, says Brooke de Lench, founder of Mom’s Team, a Web site that provides information and resources for sports parents.

“There are some parents who are good in any type of social situation,” says Ms. de Lench, who, as the parent of triplet sons, spent many years as a team mom. “For those parents, there never seems to be a problem breaking in to a new team.”

For less assertive types, it is not so easy. Ms. de Lench says a well-organized team should have a preseason meeting to discuss the team’s mission and season’s goals. That is a good time to see how active the parents are in running the team and to see what roles need to be filled. Volunteering for one of the many jobs parents need to do is a good way to break the ice.

“For new parents, it is best to go slowly,” says Steven Danish, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Mr. Danish’s specialty is the life skills learned from playing sports.

Many families form deep friendships with the parents of the other players, but it also is common that the athlete may be thriving while the parents are cringing because they don’t like the other parents or have had a clash with a particular family.

A conflict among parents doesn’t justify a search for another team, says Joel Fish, a Philadelphia sports psychologist and author of the book “101 Ways to be a Terrific Sports Parent.”

“The main rule of thumb is to keep the kid out of conflict as much as possible,” Mr. Fish says. “You don’t want the kids to defend themselves or to have to pick sides.”

If parents are presented with a conflict, there are three ways to approach it, he says. Parents can take the direct approach and confront the problem parent, or the third-party approach, and ask the coach or team manager to get involved.

“The third way is to learn some coping skills and let the problem roll off your back,” says Mr. Fish. “You can keep your distance if need be. Sometimes it is best just to coexist, because the parents’ personality is not going to change.”

Ms. de Lench says she has taken a kind approach when dealing with problem parents. She has bought coffee for the other parents in the stands on a cold day or complimented them on something their child did on the field.

“I have found it really is the little things you do,” she says. “The other parent might step back and look at how they have been behaving. It is all about showing the kids the best side of sports. If the parents can’t be nice to each other, then it is not going to be a successful season.”

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