"It's only natural," says former NFL pro John Dockery, "for parents to want to be their kid's number-one fan. But they ought to be aware that there's a fine line between being interested and being overbearing."
Well-meaning parents sometimes forget that "the games should be for the kids to enjoy," says Dockery, who conducts football safety clinics for children across the country.
Parents who want to help their children "learn, grow and have fun" with sports should, he says:
* "Give them encouragement when they need it, and a pat on the back when they do well."
* "Beware of your own expectations. Avoid putting so much pressure on a child that the only thing he or she can do is fail."
* "Never compare your child to a professional athlete."
* Arrange for your child to have expert training if he or she appears to have special talent.
* "Remember that a little bit of distance is important. You don't have to go to every single game."
Regarding coaches -- who can have "an incredible amount of influence" on children -- Dockery suggests that parents:
* "Find out what kind of person is shaping your kids." Is the coach interested primarily in kids and sports or boosting his or her own ego?
* Ask the coach if every child will play in every game. "How is a kid going to feel if his uniform is spotless and everyone else's is covered with mud?"
* Shop around for a team. Get names of kids who have worked with a particular coach and ask them about their experience.
* Check the coach's credentials. While a physical education degree isn't vital, "a coach should have played the game on some level themselves."
* "Watch a practice to get a feel for the coach's attitude."
* Determine if the coach keeps the game in perspective. "Kids don't have to practice six days a week. Three practices a week is a reasonable number."
For a child's safety:
* A complete physical exam, before engaging in a sports program.
* Competition with youngsters about the same size, age, weight, ability and experience.
* Equipment in good condition; use of protective devices such as face masks, shin guards, helmets.
* A home-conditioning program, including proper diet, exercise and rest.
For a free booklet on "Youth Football Training" write the Boys and Girls Club of Silver Spring, 1300 Forest Glen Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 20901.