If you have a child in sports, perhaps you know the dilemma: whether or not to push, and if you do, how much is too much?
Our youth sports culture has given us a very negative impression of pushy, controlling parents. The word “push” has gotten a bad rap.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that as parents we are always pushing our kids. We push them to eat, go to bed, do their homework, get outside–in fact, there are some days when we feel like we spend our whole day just pushing.
Pushing simply means “to press or urge into some action or course.” So we may as well accept the fact that as parents, we will always be urging our kids to take an action of one kind or another. I don’t think it’s possible to be a good parent and be totally apathetic about what our children do. We’re hardwired to want to push. (And the first push is down the birth canal!)
But the question is: When do you push? How do you Push? Why do you push? And How Much do you push?
When do you Push Your Child in Sports?
By the time your child is old enough to play organized sports, you should have a pretty good idea of what things interest him or her. If you see that glimmer of interest, or even a tiny seed of passion, then a little pushing may definitely be appropriate.
If he or she loves to be active and seems drawn to sports, then let childhood be the time to try out different things, like soccer, ballet, gymnastics, swimming–whatever is convenient for you as a family. It’s okay to “push” a shy child to play, as long as he or she wants to play, but may be apprehensive about the whole team thing. It’s okay to encourage your child to try something new and fun, even something challenging.
It’s important that kids learn to stick with something, so when your child wants to quit after the first two games, it’s okay to “push” him or her to finish the season and then maybe try something new next time. Teach your kids not to give up easily.
But if your child doesn’t have motivation to play and you’re the one who’s constantly pushing him out the door, it’s a pretty good sign that it might not be the right activity or sport for your child at that time. After the season is over, move on to something else.
Bottom Line: You push when all your child needs is a little shove, not a constant riding.
How do you Push Your Child in Sports?
Up to 50 million kids play youth sports in America, and 73 percent who begin playing a sport quit before they turn 13, claim statistics from organizations like the National Council for Youth Sports, National Alliance for Youth Sports, Minnesota Youth Soccer, and American Alliance for Health.
And it could very well be that the problem lies, not in the fact that parents are pushing their kids to play, but in how the parents are pushing their kids to play.
You see, if you are going to do this pushing thing effectively, you have to be pretty sneaky. To give it a proper name, let’s call it positive pushing. What does that look like?
- Ask the right question after practice or games. How did practice go? or How did you feel about your game tonight? Asking only one question shows your interest and gives your child a chance to say as much or as little as he wants. Too many questions can feel like you are pressuring.
- Offer–not demand–opportunities for your child to work outside of practice. Offer to drive him to the gym or send him to a speed camp. If he says no, then drop it, and bring it up at another time when he is ready to improve his skills.
- Be at as many games as you possibly can. It communicates your support and may encourage him to push himself.
- Notice, and offer praise for his hard work. A simple, hey, nice job tonight! or I really liked the way you played aggressively this afternoon, or I can definitely see that you’ve been working hard at practice will communicate your support without sounding like your love is attached to your child’s performance.
- Let him bask in and enjoy his good games, points scored, games won. When kids see that their hard work does pay off, they are more likely to push themselves, with very little help from you.
Bottom Line: Positive pushing is an art form, not a science. It takes mental effort and foresight.
Why do You Push Your Child in Sports?
First and foremost, when it comes to the why of pushing your child, it’s important to remember the difference between pushing kids to succeed at sports and pushing them to try. If you push your child to succeed, then you will only praise a good performance. But if you push your child to try, then you will praise effort and hard work.
Second, the answer to the why question really boils down to two options: you are either pushing your child because it’s something YOU want or need, or you are pushing your child because you see that it is something HE or SHE needs or wants.
And I think you know which one is the correct answer.
Bottom Line: When you give your child a nudge to do something he wants, you are watering a seed that is ready to sprout; but when you push because it is something only you want, you are trying to water an empty flower bed, with no seed or sprout.
How Much Do You Push Your Child in Sports?
For each child and family, there is a different answer.
Parental nudges are often necessary and helpful. Dr. Jim Taylor, the author of Positive Pushing, says that children don’t like discomfort and may put forth an effort until it gets difficult. At this point, they may look to a parent to see if they’ve done enough and can quit. Dr. Taylor explains that if children are pushed too hard, they may rebel and fail to achieve, but if parents don’t push enough, kids may become self-satisfied and unmotivated.
There’s a fine line here, for moms and dads to walk. You need to teach your kids to be uncomfortable now and then, to step out, try new things, work hard; but you don’t want to push your kids so hard that they hate the sport and resent you. Your child has got to have some level of inner motivation to really succeed. You can’t push your child to be motivated.
Push your child to take the first steps. Push your child to step out of his comfort zone. Push your child to learn to work hard and not quit.
But don’t push your child so much that it becomes your thing. Don’t push your child so much that it’s obvious he is only playing the sport to please you, not because he enjoys it.
Bottom Line: There comes a point when your child has to learn to push himself if he is to be a long-term athlete. Your job is to give a shove and then let him learn to push the rest of the way.
Are you Ready to Nudge AND Let go?
If you are a sports parent who wants to see your child get the most out of youth sports, if you want your child to grow strong in character, if you want your child to learn life-lessons that will follow him into adulthood, then learn how to nudge your kids and then let go. That’s the best way to help them grow up.
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