Youth sports participation is now a ubiquitous part of our achievement culture. Though not unheard of, it is rare to find children who are not actively involved in some sport 12 months a year. Whether team sports, such as soccer, baseball/softball, or football, or individual sports, such as tennis, swimming, or golf, it’s likely that your children are involved in youth sports for reasons ranging from fun and physical activity to dreams of Olympic or professional sports greatness.
If your children aren’t playing sports, but rather are involved in the performing arts, chess, or some other extracurricular achievement activity, this Prime Family Alert! newsletter can apply equally well to you. And this newsletter’s value to the involvement that parents have in their children’s academic lives will easily be seen by educators and parents alike.
Youth sports are a wonderful avenue for your children’s enjoyment, physical health, mastery of skills, learning essential life lessons, pursuit of goals, and hopefully adoption of a lifelong sport. Unfortunately, they can also be a source of pressure, stress, social comparison, disappointment, and harm to your children’s personal development. Which road your children get on depends largely on the attitudes you hold and the quality of your involvement in their sports participation. It’s never too early or too late to ensure that the role you play in your children’s sports will maximize the benefits they gain and minimize the damage that can come from their athletic involvement.
You need to get yourself mentally and emotionally ready for the rollercoaster that is youth sports. Many past issues of Prime Family Alert! have offered you insights that can help you navigate the rough waters of your children’s achievement activities, including sports. But, knowing many sports parents, what you really want are clear guidelines of what you should and shouldn’t do with your athlete-children.
In this issue of Prime Family Alert!, I will describe what I believe you should do with yourself, other parents, coaches, and your children to win the Sport Parent of the Year award (or at least make it through this sports season without driving yourself and your children crazy!).
DO FOR YOURSELF:
- Get vicarious pleasure from your child’s sports participation. One of the great joys of parenting is sharing your children’s experiences, both their ups and downs.
- Enjoy yourself at competitions. If you’re having fun, your children will too.
- Be positive and calm when watching your children compete. Your attitude and demeanor influences how they feel and perform.
- Have a life of your own outside of your children’s sports. If you have your own life that’s enjoyable and satisfying, your children will be free to find enjoyment and satisfaction in their athletic lives.
DO WITH OTHER PARENTS:
- Make friends with other parents at competitions. Socializing can make competitions, which can involve a lot of sitting around and waiting, more fun for you.
- Volunteer as much as you can. Youth sports depend on the time and energy of involved parents.
- Police your own ranks. Work with other parents (particularly on your children’s team) to ensure that all parents behave appropriately at practice and competitions.
DO WITH COACHES:
- Leave the coaching to the coaches. Remember that they are the experts and you are paying them to coach your children.
- Give coaches any support they need to help them do their jobs better. Your children’s coaches can have a really positive impact on them, so make sure that influence is maximized.
- Communicate with coaches about your children. You can learn about your children and help meet your children’s needs when you talk to each other.
- Inform coaches of relevant issues at home that might affect your children at practice and competitions, for example, family or school problems. When your children head out onto the field, court, or course, they take their personal lives with them.
- Make coaches your allies. Coaches work very hard for your children (usually for relatively little pay), so treat them with respect and kindness, and make sure you’re both on the side of your children.
DO FOR YOUR CHILDREN:
- Provide guidance for your children, but do not force or pressure them. Your input is invaluable, but they need to have ownership of their sports involvement.
- Assist them in setting realistic athletic goals. Young competitors need your help in deciding what they should focus on and how high they should aim.
- Emphasize fun, skill development and other benefits of sports participation and downplay results. The chances of your children becoming superstars are slim, but sports can offer wonderful experiences that can positively shape their lives.
- Show interest in their athletic efforts, for example, help them get to practice, attend competitions, ask questions. Let your children know that you care (but not too much) about their sports.
- Provide regular encouragement. Win or lose, always be positive and supportive.
- Provide a healthy perspective about success and failure. Your children will likely come to define success and failure the way you do, so ensure that you’re sending them healthy messages that will foster their personal development and sports achievement.
- Emphasize process and reward effort rather than results. Ironically, if you focus on process and effort, your children will likely have better results than if you focus on results.
- Intervene if your children’s behavior is unacceptable during practice or competitions. Establish your priorities related to being good sports by setting expectations and enforcing consequences when your children behave badly.
- Understand that your children may need a break occasionally. Sports are intense and physically demanding. Your young athletes need time to rest, recover, and recharge their batteries during the long season.
- Give your children space when needed. Part of sports involves their figuring things out for themselves. Whether they have a good or bad competition, don’t rush up to them, but rather let them sit with it alone for a while. When they’re ready, they’ll come to you.
- Keep a sense of humor. If you’re having fun and laughing, so will your children. There are few things that kill the joy of sports for children than parents who are too serious and intense.
- GIVE YOUR CHILDREN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. SHOW THEM YOU LOVE THEM WHETHER THEY WIN OR LOSE!!!
In the next issue of Prime Family Alert!, I’ll address what you shouldn’t do as sports parents, thus helping you to avoid a meltdown by yourself or your children and maintain a positive and supportive attitude regardless of their results.