Youth Sports and You
Extracurricular sports are really great for kids. These activities teach sportsmanship, teamwork, and a multitude of other life lessons, but what happens when mom and dad get carried away when it comes to their kids and competitive sports? It can happen. Here are a few things to keep in mind or practice in order to make your child’s youth sports experience a good one.
Define the reasons why you are signing your child up for a sports program. If your goals are based on personal development, such as improved social skills, verbal skills, learning and comprehension, physical exercise, and teamwork, then you’re on the mark. Signing children up for an activity you want to see them pursue, vs. what they want to do can be an uphill climb.
Make sure your child is excited and committed to play. Get your child’s feedback and gauge interest in the sport before investing time, money, and ongoing effort in an activity. Never force it. I have a friend who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His father only had one rule for him–if he signed him up for a sport, he had to “finish.” This approach laid the foundation for learning what it meant to be committed to something—a necessary skill for a productive life. He also felt the key to his success was the fact that he chose what he wanted to play—not his parents. He had 100% buy-in, and he gave it 100% effort.
Let the coach be the coach. Respect the fact that another adult is taking part in your child’s life. You may not always agree with their approach or the decisions that are made—but remember the coach is volunteering or working for little compensation. This one is very hard for parents who were standout athletes in another life. I have a friend who played football at Notre Dame, and he struggles on the regular with his daughter’s coaching, but he knows intervention would only make it harder for her. If you must, vent to your partner or a friend—but never become, “that parent,’ the one who complains about everything. This is one case where being a squeaky wheel doesn’t often get you what you want—and it may damage your relationship with the coach and other team parents.
Don’t be “one of those” parents. You know the type—they come to the games and yell throughout the event. Maybe they’re angry at the coach, maybe they’re hard on the players, and sometimes they are critical of their own children. They’re confronting the officials, they’re getting into it with other parents, they’re modeling bad sportsmanship. Being “that parent” never ends well. It’s embarrassing for your child and ultimately alienates you from others. Keep cool and remember they’re just kids playing a game.
Know when to be mama or papa bear. It’s rare that as a parent you’ll agree with everything that’s going on with your child’s sports team, and as I said above, it’s best to let the coach do their job. However, if you suspect the kids are being subjected to any form of abuse, you need to speak up or withdraw your child from the program. Organized sports have governing bodies created to make sure standards of behavior are met by all participating parties. Leave it up to those people to investigate and handle an issue should it arise.
Make sure that your reaction to each game is the same, win or lose. Never let a loss, a poor performance, or a mistake on the field of play dictate how you treat your child—or how you relate to them. If your kids begin to associate feeling loved with winning, they will be terrified to lose. Remember, children learn from loss as well as success. Never let the basis of your relationship become performance-based love.
Keep the lines of communication open. Establish that you love your child unconditionally and let them know you’re always available to talk about their feelings. The Institute for the Study of Youth and Sports at Michigan State University conducted interviews with elite youth athletes and found that kids feel pressure and stress over their sport long before parents realize it—so stay in tune with your child, be approachable, and be ready to listen.
Resist trying to recreate your own sports career or succeed where you might have failed. Whether it’s reliving glory days or experiencing victories that eluded you when you were young, living vicariously through your child is a slippery slope. This one is hard because there is a difference between feeling pride and appropriating your kids’ success.
Network with other parents. I have several moms and dads in my life who tell me they made life-long friendships through youth sports—and a few singles even met their spouses that way. Bottom-line, make the time you spend with the other parents constructive and cordial and try your best to avoid cliques. You don’t have to like everybody, in fact, you won’t—but do your best to model great behavior in that regard for your kids.
In closing, here are a few questions to ask yourself in case you are wondering if you may be getting too caught up in your child’s sports:
- Are your family conversations at home dominated by the topic of sports—critiquing performances, reviewing opponents, and breaking down games?
- Has your child’s schoolwork become second to sports?
- Are you limiting the amount of time your child has for social activities, like playing with friends and just relaxing in favor of practice and preparation?
- Are you monitoring or restricting your child’s diet to enhance their performance?
- Does your child become overly anxious or nervous about games–especially if you are in attendance?
- During timeouts or stoppage of play, does your child look to you for approval?
- Are you arguing with your child about their performance or that of their team or coaching staff?
If you answered yes to one or more questions, it might be a good time to take a step back and re-think your approach. Sports are a wonderful activity for your children—do your best to keep it that way!
Good luck, and good game!