It's not uncommon for high school coaches to ask players to read and sign a contract pledging to follow certain rules, study hard, etc. But how young is too young to ask youth sports players -- and sometimes parents -- to do the same?
In my opinion it's never too young to introduce kids to written rules and the expectations that go along with them. The key is establishing rules that are easily understood and realistic by that age group.
Let's take 5-year-olds as one example. Three simple rules written on a piece of paper might be:
1. Do your homework before practice; 2. Bring a water bottle to practice; and 3. Always listen to the coaches at practice. Easily understood, certainly attainable, and practical to evaluate if you choose to do so.
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Notice I didn't include to be on time for practice, because let's face it, that is completely out of the hands of the 5-year-old. And seriously, are you going to punish the child because mom or dad got home late from work and therefore is late to practice?
As kids get older the rules might change to: 1. Practice for at least 15 minutes on off days; 2. Bring all necessary equipment to practice; 3. Don't be the reason you are late to practice; and 4. Maintain the grades your parents expect.
There's nothing wrong with asking each player to sign the contract regardless of age, but it is very important to go over the contract as a team, with parents listening so they know the expectations.
As for a parent contract, I always have parents sign one. It's almost as simple as the one for 5-year-olds: 1. Cheer and say only positive things, no negative comments; 2. Let the coaches do the coaching; no coaching from the bleachers; and 3. Help reinforce the players' contracts. And then I include that failure to do so might impact the playing time of their child. Why punish the child? In 25 years of coaching I've found this is the most effective consequence for parents (and rarely ever has had to be used).
One of the best ways to test your contract before you hand it out is to think to yourself, "What would my reaction be if I or my child was handed this contract and asked to sign it?" Also ask someone else who has children not associated with the team.
It's easier to lay down the ground rules for players and parents before the season starts, and often signing a contract is the most effective way to do so.