The scene is a crisp Friday evening in the fall. The local high school football team is playing a tightly-contested game against the archrival from across town. Trailing by five points in the waning minutes, the running back takes a pitch from the quarterback and finds an opening in the defense. With a quick burst of speed, he’s into the open field.
The father of the running back, and the rest of the crowd, rise to their feet in anticipation as the back breaks away with a clear path to the end zone and erupt as he crosses the goal line. Pandemonium ensues as the father high-fives those nearby, swelling with pride as the school band fires up the fight song.
However, the crowd is silenced when the referee signals that a penalty has nullified the touchdown. The joy on the part of the running back’s parent instantly turns to intense anger.
Without thinking, the parent starts berating the officials at the top of his lungs, the volume and choice of words turning heads in the crowd. Soon, the parent realizes he succumbed to the emotional peaks and valleys of being a parent spectator, which caused him to embarrass himself, his school and, most importantly, his son.
Similar scenarios happen all too often in communities across the country, proving it is no easy task to be a parent at an event. For parents, watching their son or daughter succeed, fail or take criticism in such an unpredictable landscape provokes a wide range of emotions that can be very difficult to manage.
As a means of navigating the ebb and flow of emotions, the NFHS developed “The Parent Seat” – a short video that suggests 10 tips parents can use to develop and maintain a calm, respectful demeanor.
“The Parent Seat,” which is the first non-course offering on the NFHS Learning Center (www.NFHSLearn. com), is a tremendous addition to the more than 70 online education courses for administrators, coaches, parents and students covering topics from music adjudication to NCAA eligibility to heat illness and concussion prevention.
“We know it’s an emotional situation,” said Dan Schuster, NFHS director of educational services. “Whether you’re a parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt, uncle or neighbor, you have an emotional attachment to someone playing in that contest or performing on that stage. We wanted a relatable, quick-hitting video that gets people to think about their actions before they attend an event and creates expectations for how they should behave.”
Unlike the courses, “The Parent Seat” video can be shared on many different platforms. Downloaded directly from the NFHS Learning Center website, the piece can easily be shared on social media, shown as part of a welcome message at events, or discussed as a point of emphasis at parents’ meetings.
“We were looking to do something different,” Schuster said. “The NFHS Learning Center has always really been about courses, and it’s been a very successful initiative for us. But in today’s world, where brevity and social media sharing are crucial aspects of communication, we wanted something for parents that fit that profile.”
The video’s list of suggestions consists of both mental and physical activities for preparing for an event, as well as ways to avoid negative outbursts while attending a game or contest.
Trying to “understand the benefits” of participating in high school activities and “embrace the growth and development of your student” headline the thoughts parents can reflect on to promote a healthy, positive mindset for events. Getting some pregame exercise or “participating in a relaxing activity” can be useful methods of relieving stress or pent-up energy, which are often manifested in foul behavior.
“The way parents conduct themselves creates teachable moments for their children – and those go both ways,” Schuster said. “They can be examples of what to do or what NOT to do at events. We want to make sure kids have a positive and memorable experience while competing and sometimes you must show people what that should look like first. Using the items on the list as guidelines starts to create the environment we’re looking for.”
The successful launch of “The Parent Seat” has encouraged Schuster and his staff to begin working on additional videos that address other areas of need within the culture of high school athletics and activities.
“‘The Parent Seat’ was intended as a pilot for a larger series of parent videos, but I believe this idea will go beyond parent education,” Schuster said. “We think the interscholastic community will continue to support these offerings whether they are focused on students, coaches, administrators or any other associated group.”
Schuster hopes viewers will take the video’s messages to heart, and then lead by example for everyone else.
“If we can educate some of these parents, they can rub off on the others,” he said. “If we can eliminate some of those ‘bad actors’ and replace them with ‘good actors,’ suddenly the scene in the bleachers is going to start looking and sounding a lot better. And most importantly, kids can just go out and play without worrying about what mom and dad are doing.”
Nate Perry is an intern in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan and a master’s degree in sport administration from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Prior to the NFHS, he worked in athletic communications/ sports information offices at CMU and Tennessee Tech University.