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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Parents, Get in the Game!

I have recently written in this column about how pleased I am about being a coach for my daughters’ flag football team. Nothing has changed and I do love sharing this time and activity with my daughters, but I am still a bit piqued. Why, you might ask? I’m glad you did; allow me to share.

If you go to almost any organization, especially one involving children, you will find that 10 to 20% of the people do 90% of the work, and a sizeable portion of parents use the organization as a babysitting service. I cannot ascribe motive, largely because I am not privy to what goes on inside the head of another, and sometimes I’m not so sure what goes on in my own head.

But here are a few guesses: maybe parents feel they have nothing to contribute in comparison to the many talented and giving people who do step up to volunteer. Perhaps they convince themselves they have less time than those who take on volunteer roles. I hope the parent’s reasoning is they would like their kids to do an activity without a parent hovering nearby.

Whatever the reason, when parents fail to volunteer, attend activities such as games or even awards ceremonies, parents tell their kids where they fall in the pecking order of family life and children are often embarrassed. When parents fail to pick kids up on time from an event, organization leaders feel compelled, in the interest of safety if nothing else, to wait until parents do show up.

School based and extra-curricular activities are essential to the well-rounded development of a child and I encourage parents to enroll their children in as many of them as the family can while maintaining a healthy family/life/work balance. However, I also encourage as much parental participation as possible, and if there is a reason you can’t help out, such as you want some parent child separation, make sure the adult volunteers know this and make yourself available in other ways. Go out of your way to be helpful and pleasant, and always pick your child up on time.

I allow that single parents, those folks in financial difficulty and grandparents who find themselves parents again, have a more difficult time being involved in team or group their children are in, but surely everyone can help one of those organizations in some way. At a minimum, stay in communication with the adult volunteers and coaches; give them your support as they have a difficult job, and in the vast majority of cases, they do it out of passion and compassion for kids. If you find yourself unable to help financially or with your time, at least make sure you are at events, supporting your child and showing them you value both your child and the role the organization plays in your child’s life.

As our nation moved away from an agrarian, largely rural society, these organizations became more important, both to individual kids and to society’s youth. Providing activities for eager minds, physical fitness for growing bodies, and ethical and moral education to augment the messages parents are trying to push through the static is a difficult job. Youth volunteers are one of our nation’s greatest assets and deserve your appreciation and help. Even better is that you should become one of them.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

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