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Getting parents involved who rarely show up for their girl's sports activities

QUESTION: How can I get parents more involved in their daughter's athletic development? I am a coach of a girls' soccer ball team and I find that girls whose parents never attend games often develop a laissez-faire attitude that affects team morale and performance.

ANSWER: Your findings that girls reflect the attitude that their parents show towards their sports activities are accurate. Sadly, gender conditioning operates in subtle, but significant ways that may discourage girls from taking their sports activities seriously. Not showing up to your child's games sends the message that this is not a very important activity. Likewise, lateness to sports practice and absenteeism are also more common for girls, and may be the result of lower prioritizing by parents, and the girls themselves.

Educate parents and players

Require a meeting of parents and players before the season begins. A required potluck dinner at a parent's house will provide the atmosphere for a friendly and information gathering session. Bring books on the subject of self-esteem and the benefits of sports to girls development. (Raising our Athletic Daughters by Zimmerman and Reavill is a good one!) Identify the cultural bias against girls taking sports seriously, and the evidence that girls who play sports tend to avoid the physical, psychological and social pitfalls of adolescence. But do not stop there!

It is a well known fact that a key factor in a child's academic learning and school performance is the involvement and expectations of the parents. Let the parents of your players know that their presence or absence at games makes a difference in not only the attitude their child brings to the sport, but in the way they play the game!

Clarify what the expectations are for involvement

Set out what will be required for participation. After discussing the reasons for parental involvement, consider a point system where parents are rewarded for coming to all games. Perhaps a parent trophy or certificate at the close of the season at the traditional celebratory pizza night. (Or even sanctions of extra duty for parents who miss more than a certain number of games!) This will not stop players from playing if their parents are absentee, but it will send the message to parents that their involvement is important to their daughter's development.

After all, most parents would agree that building your child's self-esteem is in part a product of taking a respectful attitude towards the activities in which your child chooses to engage. Why would sports be any different?

Parents may unwittingly place their daughters involvement in sports as back seat to a son's sports activities or other more traditionally "feminine" endeavors. Sports may be seen as a "side" activity for a girl, but an important and central part of a boy's development. Once parents understand the nature of the problem, it will become easier for them to see how their own behavior is a part of the solution!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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