Sports parenting is as easy as signing your child up and getting him to practice, right?
If this is your child’s first, second, or even third year of playing youth sports, then you are still relatively new to the game. It may seem easy, and you may think, This is great! This is fun! Where’s the hard part that so many sports parents talk about? All I’m doing is watching the game and cheering for my kid!
Here’s your first lesson in this beginner’s guide to sports parenting: Being your child’s cheerleader is not the hard part; it’s the stuff that surrounds the game that gets sticky.
When I signed my first child up for gymnastics and then later for softball, I entered a whole new world. Kids’ sports is its own unique culture. I had no idea what I was getting into. I wish that someone would have handed me a book or shown me an article that gave me some insight on how to handle all that would come at me as a sports mom in the next 20 years.
So, newbie sports moms and dads–whose kids have been playing 1-3 years–this post is for you. I am going to give you 10 beginner’s tips to set you on a course for many years of positive and enjoyable sports parenting.
#1 Answer This Question: What kind of sports parent do you want to be if your kids are still playing when they get to high school or college?
When you have a chance to watch sports events of older kids and you look around at the parents, what kind of sports parenting do you see?
Positive, enthusiastic spectators? Pacing, agitated sideliners? Parents clumped in sympathy groups, discussing coaches’ and players’ mistakes? Parents yelling and coaching their kids from the bleachers or sidelines? Parents who complain loudly to the coaches, refs, player, or each other?
My guess is that you see all of the above. The questions is: which one do you want to be after your child has been playing sports for a few years? This is a choice you should make before your child ever dons a uniform.
Decide today what kid of sports parent you desire to be for your children. Picture yourself in 10 years–your attitude towards the coach, your demeanor during the game, your comments to your kid after the game, your ambition for your child–and determine what you want to end up like as a sports parent.
And then, start choosing now in that direction. Don’t just let it happen of its own accord, because if you don’t make choices that will help you be a positive, supportive parent, you might end up being one of those obnoxious, pushy parents that you always swore you’d never be.
#2 Beware of the Slippery Slope
As your child continues to play sports, you will not suddenly wake up one morning and be a negative, pushy sports parent. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly, over the years. It happens one choice at a time.
- When your young child sits the bench more than you like, will you chew the coach out or confront calmly with a question like “is there anything that Johnny can do to improve his game?” You have a choice.
- When the coach calls a play you don’t agree with, will you smirk to other parents about his bad coaching or will you keep your mouth shut and be grateful that he’s giving up his time to coach your child? You have a choice.
- When your kid comes home crying that he didn’t score because his teammate hogged the ball, will you echo his rants or will you try to help him understand how he can be a team player regardless? You have a choice.
Each choice will either bring you closer to being a strong, supportive sports parent or it will push you a little further down the slippery slope towards being the parent you really don’t want to be.
#3 Coaches are Not Infallible
The sooner you accept that your child is not playing for a perfect human being, the better you’ll be able to handle the inconsistencies of youth sports. Coaches have jobs, problems, families, insecurities, egos, and a desire to win (I’ve never met a coach who wants to lose). Sometimes they don’t make the best choices, sometimes they are tired or grumpy. And sometimes it may seem like they don’t know what they are doing.
As much as I disliked or was frustrated with my kids’ coaches, I never once believed that they were intentionally being idiots or jerks (or whatever name came to my mind). Most of them are doing their job as best as they can.
Unless there are safety or moral issues involved, the best thing you can do when you are unhappy with a coach, is to show your child how to deal with people he doesn’t like or agree with. Whatever you want your child to learn to do, do that thing. Because he’s watching and he will learn.
#4 You are Going to Be Biased About Your Child
This is not a fact you can change. But it is a fact you can understand and work around.
Just admitting your prejudice for your child is the first step. Once you recognize that you are biased, then you can filter your reactions through that: Is my child truly good enough to be playing that position or to be on the court for most of the game? Is it possible that I’m just seeing the situation through my bias and therefore am not getting a clear view?
The willingness to admit your bias will save you a lot of sports parenting frustration in years to come.
#5 Sometimes It’s Best to Let Someone Else Coach Your Child
Trying to coach your kid when he doesn’t want your help will hurt your relationship. Yes, you are trying to help and I’m sure your advice is sound–if he would only listen!
This is when you accept support from others. Let coaches, teachers, and trainers do their job. Being a good parent doesn’t mean you do everything for and with your child; it means that you give her the resources she needs to help her learn and grow, and know when to step in and when to back off.
#6 Don’t be Enamored with The Numbers
Stats are important and must be kept, but they do not tell the entire story of a game. They don’t measure the effort, the teamwork, or the leadership shown.
Let me ask you a question: what will matter in 10 years–that your son scored 20 points in his basketball game or that he grew up understanding what it means to be a teamplayer? Not saying you can’t have both, but many sports parents have a love affair with the stats, and therefore are missing the whole point of youth sports.
#7 Avoid the Temptation to Fix Everything
The urge to fix things for my kids has been and continues to be a constant inner battle for me. I fall into this trap for two main reasons: because I hate to see my kids struggle and because I often feel that it would just be easier if I did the job done myself instead of allowing them to struggle through it.
Fixing things for your kids means that you step in to fight their battles, smooth their path, and bail them out of troubles. It may make you feel better because it seems like you’ve resolved the problem. But in reality, it’s just opening the door for more problems in the future, which you will continue to feel the urge to fix.
Resist the temptation to be a fix-it parent. Problem solving is one of the most valuable skills you can teach your kids and I suggest you start when they are young.
#8 Be Prepared to Help Out
Teamwork is not just for athletes; it’s for parents too. If every parent pitches in and does one task, no matter how small it is, the work of running a team will be much easier. It should not be left up to one parent to do all the work. Don’t be the parent that carries the full load; ask others to help. And don’t be the parent that says I’m too busy and fades to the back of the group so she doesn’t have to volunteer.
If you can take the time to drive to your kids’ games and practices, you can find the time to do one thing to help the team.
#9 Stay Away from Sympathy Groups
Those groups of parents that cluster together during or after the game to complain, criticize or pick apart the coach and the team are called sympathy groups. They are not helpful and they do not seek solutions; they are venting groups that usually end up causing more division on the team.
If you see one, steer clear. If you’re sitting in one, move away. If you can’t steer clear or move away, then be an agent of change that tactfully redirects the conversation to more positive territory.
#10 Learn How to Coach Your Child
There is coaching your child–which should be left for the coach–and there’s life coaching your child. As a life coach, I’ve discovered the effectiveness of life coaching someone through a problem. It involves asking discovery questions, active listening and letting your child think through her options. Someone who is coached this way is much more likely to own the solution and follow through than someone who’s told step by step what to do.
If this is something you’d like to learn more about, I would love to teach you how to coach your child. Check out this page or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beginning sports parents, as you dive into the unfamiliar world of youth sports, remember this: youth sports is about fun, learning, growth, and character development. You send your kids to school, wanting them to come out as adults who are ready to face the world; you should want nothing less for your child’s journey in youth sports.