You see them everywhere. In hockey rinks, beside soccer fields, up in the bleachers taking in a swim meet. They move in packs, chuckling and griping and enjoying every minute of it. Uh, enjoying some of it. Most of it. Some of it.
The youth sports social network.
The people with whom you watch your children’s sports unfold are the people with whom you spend the majority of your time. Youth sport dictates such a great amount of our time and energy that it’s these people who will become your sounding board, your first outlet for advice and ultimately, your closest friends.
These Are My Friends?
I’ve worked in every level of hockey between the ages of seven and 17 on multiple occasions. There are distinct groups that move through hockey together as their children play on the same teams every year or every other year.
It’s a wonderful advantage to know who’s your friend and who isn’t when you spend the balance of a decade with the same group of people. These are longterm friends, you’ll spend holidays together, take trips together and plan your summers around your kids’ schedules.
Like failing an assignment two weeks into the semester, seeing things differently than a fellow parent early in a season can be a social death sentence. There’s only so much room to watch hockey in an arena, and that’s without the threat of, hockey gods forbid, landing on the same soccer team or being in the same class at school!
But hey, at least you know who to avoid, right? Every youth sports team has cliques, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Disagree with a certain parent’s take on things? Sit somewhere else. People like to talk when they’re watching their children play, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen.
Con: Poisoning the Well
…Unless you do have to listen because the group of friends you run with is buying into the message of the negative parent. Youth sports is a small community, everybody seems to know everybody and the truly angry personalities need an outlet to vent just like anyone else (true story: the CEO of Twitter admitted the social media channel was created for the hockey parents of the lower mainland*).
Pro: Built-In Structure
Let’s move on from the negativity, it gets far too much airplay anyways. Another pro to your youth sports social network is that all your engagements are built in. You don’t need to plan anything. As you progress throughout one child’s youth sports journey, you and your pals will establish tendencies like watching from a consistent spot, or full-blown rituals involving tailgate parties on which I won’t comment any further. Suffice to say, taking the show on the road for a tournament when you have an established group of close friends whose company you enjoy; that’s where the real magic happens.
My last point is neither a pro nor a con, but simply a fact: these are the people you’re going to spend a lot of time with. You don’t have to be best buds with all of them, but the more positive energy you can contribute, the easier the entire parent social network operates. The ripple effect is real, I’ve seen it spread out on the waves of positive energy and engagement and I’ve seen it shudder beneath the ugliness of resentment and frustration.
So when it comes to the parent social network, avoid the ugliness.
Be a pro.
*not a true story.