Take a Break from the Bleachers: 10 Reasons NOT to Watch Practice


Confession: I am a recovered bleacher creature.

When my kids were little, I loved to watch my daughters’ dance classes and gymnastics classes. Too much so.

Sure, I rationalized my (over) involvement by telling myself that it was to far to drive home (it wasn’t), that I was just being supportive (that did not require sitting through every last practice) or that I didn’t have anything better to do (really?).

But what I really wanted was to be a part of watching them grow and achieve. Is there anything wrong with that?

Not on the surface. But digging deeper I understood that I was not the only person in the equation. My daughters’ needs and those of their instructors and coaches mattered as well. And my constant presence was neither necessary nor effective in them growing into independent people. Plus, I was inadvertently robbing them of enjoying their activities for themselves and from developing a strong relationship with the professionals who were teaching them.

Fortunately for my relationship with kids and their own development, my daughters had the confidence to put the kibosh on my hawk-like behavior. I believe the conversation went something like: “Stop watching practice all the time. It’s annoying.” And, while it hurt my feelings in the short term, I am glad that they spoke up, and I am glad that I listened.

Now that I am on the other side of the gym wall, I fully understand why it is important not to watch every moment of practice. Absolutely I encourage parents to come and watch practice from time to time as it gives them a glimpse into their child’s progress and how they spend their after school free time.

But just as you would not sit in your child’s classroom and watch every instructional moment, I discourage you from watching every possible moment of practice.

Here is my short list as to why:

1. It’s like watching paint dry. When you view all practices it is difficult to view the progress in your child. In turn, that can create frustration on your part, which your child will undoubtedly pick up on. Yes, it really can take 50,000 attempts before your child finally performs a skill and that is okay—but you watching each of those attempts might drive you both insane.

2. It makes it harder to see your child’s progress. You tend not to notice that your child has grown. But the dear Aunt who only sees your child once a month notices it immediately. If you watch practice all the time, you will not appreciate your child’s improvement and will not be able to lend perspective to her when she is frustrated with what she perceives as a lack of progress.

3. It disrupts the teaching process. I see it all the time. The child who finishes a routine and looks first to the observation deck for feedback instead of her coach. Not that parents cannot learn to be great coaches, but my money is on the credentials of the coaches who have gone through extensive training and have years of experience.

4. It leads you to believe that you know more about the sport than you probably do. I watch basketball avidly. The number of hours I spend watching games and reading about the sport is borderline embarrassing. I have a good (perhaps even superior) knowledge of the rules of the game and lots of opinions on who my team should draft and trade for and recommendations regarding the starting line up. That said, am I qualified to be a paid professional basketball coach? Should I give the general manager my recommendations? No, no I should not. You get the idea.

5. It sends a message to the coaches that you are not confident in their ability. Watching every moment of practice has a micro-managing feel to it. This undermines the confidence of your child’s coaches who wonder if you think that they are not capable of doing their job.

6. It messes with your child’s intrinsic motivation. We put our kids in sports like gymnastics because they have a natural interest and drive to be in the sport. That intrinsic motivation is essential to helping create happy adults. Psychologists call it “flow” that wonderful feeling of being able to work at something for hours not realizing how much time has gone by. When we insert ourselves too much into our child’s play (and this should be play for them), we break that flow. Of course we want to be supportive of our child’s passion, but we don’t want to take it over. (Hint: if you know everyone’s floor routines, you are watching too much!)

7. It makes it more difficult for your child to make a free choice about continuing in the sport. If you are so enmeshed in your child’s gymnastics experience it makes it much more painful for your child to tell you that she no longer wants to do the sport because now she feels that she is robbing you of your experience.

8. It creates an unhealthy dependency in your child. Independent practice helps to create independent children. Your child forgot her grips? If you are there it becomes your problem too—if not, she has to solve the problem herself. There are plenty of kind, caring coaches and administrators at the gym that will help your child if she is need, let her learn to ask.

9. It’s annoying. At least that’s what my kids told me. And I suspect they are right.

10. It’s bad for your health.  Sitting is the new smoking. True story. The more your sit, the earlier you will die. No matter what your fitness level might be. Besides, the bleachers or chairs at the gym cannot be that comfortable. (Secret: That’s for a reason.)

By all means, watch some practice. It shows your child you are interested and supportive. But step out of the observation area and get on with your day. There is a whole wide world out there of interesting things to see and do—far more interesting than watching Susie try her kip for the 10,341st time.

Or at least go down to the front desk and see if they need help alphabetizing their files. I am sure that they will be grateful for the free labor!

Step away from the window. It is better for everyone.

(Note: My next blog is on when you should stay and watch practice.)