Parents are the biggest problem in youth sports.

True or false?

It would be better if parents were locked in a soundproof room at all times during practice and games.

Agree or disagree?

If it weren’t for the parents, the players and coaches would have a much better experience in sports.

Right or wrong?

If you’re a coach, you’ve thought and said all those things. If you’re a parent, those things have been said about you. But here’s the thing, parents aren’t going away. And they shouldn’t. Kids need them. Yes, kids need coaches. They need their parents more.

Coaching 9-year-old boys makes clear what I already knew: parents are and will always be the greatest influence in the lives of children. For better or worse, this is true and it’s not going to change. I’m thankful that the team I’m privileged to coach is full of great families, with parents who love and support their children. Honestly, the parents on our team are wonderful. I continue to learn from them, receive encouragement from them, and desire to partner with them as they raise their children.

Whether you’re a coach, a teacher, a church volunteer, or someone who just cares about kids, here are a few things I picked up this year from my 9-year-old players and their parents.

1. Never overestimate your importance in someone’s life. If you view yourself as everyone’s savior, you’ll drive yourself and them crazy. No, they don’t think about you as much as you hope or assume they do. Most of the time, your players and their parents are thinking about you only when they arrive at practice or at a game. That’s really ok. What else would you expect? So, in response to that truth, don’t assume you are or will ever be more important in the life of a child than his or her parents. Sure, there will be moments when you are vital to them, but remember who is and should be most important: their parents.

2. Never underestimate your importance in someone’s life. If you stopped reading after the previous paragraph, you would give up on all the reasons you went into coaching. You would go through the motions, become distant and disconnected with your players and their parents, and provide a very sterile experience for your team. And, you would miss the point entirely. No, you’ll likely never become the most important person in the life of that player, but you had better understand just how important you can be. That player needs you. He needs you to love him, to care for him, to encourage him, to be kind to him, to help him when he gets hurt, to teach him, to take up for him. Why? Because you can never assume someone else does all that for him. What an incredible privilege to be a coach!

3. Always reinforce what you can. One of the things I constantly remind myself about is that coaching isn’t “us vs. them,” with “them” being parents. Make it your goal to reinforce the principles parents are teaching their kids, to the degree that you can. Be sure you’re teaching more than sports skills. Teach responsibility, hard work, compassion, taking up for friends…anything you can that helps kids understand that they’re parents aren’t crazy for taking about those things. Above all, do all you must to avoid putting the kid between you and his parents. Don’t make him choose an allegiance. You’re better than that. This isn’t about allegiance. This is about helping young boys grow into great men.

4. Always remember you’re talking to someone’s son. If someone said those things in that way to your son, how would you feel? What we all know is that the way something is said–the tone, posture, expression, and force with which words are uttered–often matters more than the words themselves. Never forget that. At the end of the day, when baseball is over, when your team is no longer, when you’re finished coaching those particular players, let it be said of you that you treated everyone else’s son better than you would want someone to treat your own son. If you do that, you’ve succeeded.

Are parents the problem in youth sports? Sometimes, I suppose they are. Regardless, they will always be the greatest influence in the lives of your players. Deal with it. Figure it out. Make the most of it. Embrace it.

This is the seventh post in a series called “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from 9-Year-Old Baseball Players.” For the rest of the series, see the “Game Notes” page.