For Parents: A Practical Guide From Soccer Manager Alex Perdikis

As a parent, team manager and former student athlete himself, Alex Perdikis knows about the benefits of kid team sports. He also realizes that parents have the power to make team sports a fun and healthy activity or create a living nightmare where children drop out. Here is a practical guide for parents that outline best practices that build interest, encourage and support children who play team sports.

Pushing: Yes or No?

It’s not a problem if your child shows an interest in and has an aptitude for a team sport. No need to push. But, what if your child shows no interest? You know the benefits. Sports builds confidence, teaches people skills, develops problem-solving skills and promotes an active and healthy lifestyle. Children who participate in team sports are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or become obese. They also tend to get better grades. With all of those advantages, why shouldn’t you push?

A little encouragement may not be a bad thing. Far from a “push,” encouragement includes different techniques to draw your child out and perhaps open the door to interest. Here are some ways to open your child up to the possibility of playing a team sport:

  • Go to games and practices as observers: Children are frightened of the unknown. Getting them comfortable with the game atmosphere, team play and environment removes the fear of the unknown.
  • Play in your own backyard: No pressure, play for fun backyard games can reveal hidden talent and set the stage for more organized competitions in the future. Whether it’s baseball, soccer, basketball or football, kid team sports should be first and foremost fun.
  • Talk about it: It may not be a total lack of interest that stops your child from playing a team sport. They may simply be unsure. A few words and strategic questions can steer children the right way. For example, ask if any of your child’s friends play on a team. If so, would your child like to try, too? If you think your child might benefit from a specific sport, ask how the child feels about it. Discuss what your child likes and dislikes about the sport. Be positive and keep the focus on them, not about how proud you would be.

They’re In! Now What?

A recent study done by George Washington University associate professor Amanda Visek found a dramatic drop in the rates of children participating in team sports. Another study found that 70 percent who do play drop out by the age of 13. The top reason? Playing was no longer fun, and it was because of their parents. Parents couldn’t stop coaching, took over the experience and lived and died with the team’s wins and losses. It’s the duty of parents to encourage, support and keep it fun. Leave coaching to the coaches.

People With Down Syndrome Making a Difference

There was a time when people with Down syndrome lived out their lives in institutions away from their families and the general public. Fortunately, times are different now. Specialized care and advanced treatments mean that those born with Down syndrome lead full, active and happy lives. In fact, today people with Down syndrome  break down barriers and take on the world in surprising ways. Here are a few of their remarkable stories.

A Political First

Angela Bachiller lives in Valladolid, a city in central Spain. The now 32-year-old worked as an administrative assistant in the Social Welfare and Family offices for three years. She loves to travel and read. In 2013, Angela became the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a city council. She hopes that her candidacy and election win will help change the perception people have about those with disabilities and open more doors of opportunity.

No Boundaries

In the spring of 2013, more than 2,100 students graduated from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Kentucky. Megan McCormick, one of the honor graduates, received an associate degree in education. Highly motivated and hard-working, Megan’s goal is to work with children as a teacher and mentor. Her accomplishments are impressive because Megan has Down syndrome. BCTC officials believe she is the first Down syndrome student to earn an associate degree with honors from a technical college.

Pablo Pineda, a successful actor in Spain, was the first Down syndrome student to earn a university degree in Europe. Pablo received the San Sebastian International Film Festival Silver Shell award for his film performance in “Yo Tambien,” where he played a university graduate with Down syndrome. He is the author of the book “The Challenge of Learning.” With a diploma in teaching and a bachelor’s in educational psychology, Pablo plans to retire from acting and teach.

In 2013, 15-year-old Elisha “Eli” Reimer became the first person  with Down syndrome to reach base camp on Mount Everest. Eli and his father trained together for a year to prepare for the two week 70-mile hike to the camp. The climb was not only a monumental accomplishment, but it also raised $85,000 in donations for the Elisha Foundation, a charitable organization created by Eli’s parents to help families with special needs children.

On the Screen

Actors with Down syndrome have starred in numerous television shows and films. One of the funniest is Lauren Potter who hilariously played Becky Jackson on “Glee.” Luke Zimmerman’s role as Tom Bowman in the series “The Secret Life of the American  Teenager’ led to other roles and a guest appearance on “Glee.”

Chris Burke’s endearing character on television’s “Life Goes On” led to parts in major motion pictures, including “Mona Lisa Smile.” Chris is a National Down Syndrome Society Goodwill Ambassador and travels the world to raise awareness.

Advances in medical treatment and a changing view of those with disabilities means that people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to take on any of the challenges the world has to offer.

Avoid the Nightmare: Become the Most Supportive Sports Parent You Can Be

As manager of his oldest daughter’s travel soccer team, Alex Perdikis has seen it all. He’s seen supportive parents who know how to keep losses in perspective and he’s seen the stuff of nightmares. If you’re a parent of a child who is active in sports, you know how easy it is to fall into the nightmare trap. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t become the infamous “bad” sports parent.

Nightmares and Sports Don’t Mix

Former long-term coaches Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller conducted an informal survey of student athlete’s worst memories from their high school and youth sports days. The most common answer was “The ride home with my parents.” Most of these parents were not the typical screamers or second-guessers. Most of them thought they were making constructive comments and suggestions. The problem is, according to Brown that right after the game or competition is exactly the wrong time to talk about improving technique. Children need that time to regroup and distance themselves. It’s also likely that the coach already gave instructional feedback. The ride home from a sporting event should not become a child’s worst memory.

Make It Fun

Sports activities have so many positive benefits. Sports is a great way to learn problem-solving skills, learn to work well with others and develop a spirit of sportsmanship. Many of these positives are obliterated if parents lose focus. Young athletes get more out of their sporting activities if they think of them as fun. They don’t need the pressure that comes from overemphasis on winning. They take their cue from you. If you treat the child differently after a win than a loss, it sends a clear message that winning is more  important than doing their best.

Children also follow your example when it comes to the coaching staff. If you criticize coaching decisions, either at the game or at home, the child loses respect for the coach. Children should also see their parents root for the entire team, not just them individually.

It’s very easy for parents to self-identify through their children. Perhaps you had a promising athletic career that was stalled because of injury and you’d like nothing better than to see your child succeed where you fell short. Of course, you want what is best for your child’s future. The problem is that your goals may not be the same as your child’s. Don’t lose sight of your child’s individual wants and talents or assume they are the same as yours.

Be a Parent

Being a parent means supporting and teaching through example. Student athletes have coaches to teach them their game, but parents play a different role. Remaining confident and upbeat during games, avoiding criticism, displaying true sportsmanship, respecting authority and treating others, even those on opposing sides, with kindness is necessary if you want to become an ideal sports parent. Words aren’t enough. You have to be a shining example of acceptable behavior and decorum to teach your child the true life lessons that sports activities provide.

It’s More Than a Game to Alex Perdikis and the Rest of the Gang

Alex Perdikis, who played linebacker for the University of Richmond football team from 1993 to 1996, knows that college sports is made up of human stories. Stories of players and fans behaving badly get a lot of press, but there are just as many stories that prove the human spirit is alive and well. These are just a few of the heartwarming stories to come out of sports in recent years.

Competition, Rivalry and Human Compassion

College sports is full of age-old rivalries. Arguments between fans, players and team supporters can get heated. The football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn goes way back. Why then, was Alabama quarterback Blake Sims wearing a bracelet supporting Kayla Perry, a young Auburn student and fan, during the 2014 Iron Bowl?  Sims had heard about Perry’s diagnosis of a rare and potentially deadly disease called neuroblastoma. He wore the bracelet to support Perry’s fight to beat the disease and raise awareness.

David Ash was a promising young quarterback for Texas. Unfortunately, he suffered numerous concussions and decided to retire from football before sustaining permanent injuries. It wasn’t an easy decision for a talented young athlete to make, but he handled it philosophically, with a positive attitude. Ash made it a point to thank the many Oklahoma Sooner fans, arch rivals of Texas, who wished him well on his journey. Rivalries don’t mean a lot when it comes to compassion.

The Maryville football team was up 46 to nothing against St. Joseph Benton high school. Near the end of the game, Benton’s coach called a timeout and ran across the field to talk to Maryville’s coach. When play resumed, Matt Ziesel, a Benton team member with Down syndrome, came out to play running back. The quarterback handed Ziesel the ball and he ran 70 yards for a touchdown. Maryville won more than a game that day with their compassionate gift to a deserving young man. They won hearts as well.

Anthony, a young man who battled Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, was a huge North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team fan. When players Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald heard about Anthony, they decided to treat the then 12-year-old to a day he’d never forget. Anthony was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at team facilities, met with the coach and players and had the time of his life.

Love Prevails

When Western Carolina sophomore Simms Hicks agreed to present the American flag honoring the troops during a presentation at halftime of the men’s basketball game, she had no idea what was in store. Her father, Major Jimmy Hicks was in the Marine Corps stationed in Afghanistan. She hadn’t seen him in months. After presenting the flag alongside officials and the team mascot, Simms started to walk back to her seat when the mascot removed the head of his costume, revealing his identity. There stood Simms’ father. Father and daughter embraced in an emotional  reunion.

Basketball: Great for Keeping in Shape

Perfectly arched shots from more than 23 feet away and spectacular, windmilling dunks may get all the press. But basketball’s got much more to offer. The truth is, it’s a great workout. If played properly, basketball provides intense cardiovascular exercise and remarkably efficient agility training. It develops exacting hand-eye coordination and a true feeling of accomplishment. Best of all, participants don’t have to spend a lot of money buying gym memberships or hiring personal trainers. The net down at the park is beckoning, so grab some shoes and a ball and attack the rim.