Parenting is a tricky business and even though I have studied psychology for half of my life I still catch myself unsure of small daily decisions that I take with my daughter. Am I reinforcing a bad behavior? Should I deal with this situation differently? And it happens with everyone.

Sports parenting is not different. Many parents want to be supportive but don’t want to be too permissive. Others may struggle with how much they should push their children to strive for their goals – should they leave more to their kids to decide? The problem with the pressure that some sports parents make on their kids has been discussed before and is highly related to fear of failure on their kids. And if you’ve been reading my blogs, you should know by now that fear of failure is one of the worst things that an athlete can have.

So what should sports parents do? How to know if what you are doing with your best intentions is good for your kid or if it’s contributing to their suffering? Every kid is different, but in general there are some helpful hints I can give you:

  • Leave the coaching to the coach. I don’t care how much you know about the game; if you start coaching your child on the sidelines you will affect their focus. They will also be confused if they should follow you or the coach. It’s awful for focus, they may feel judged if you are just giving negative feedback, and they may lose respect for the coach. A good way to avoid this is taking your kid to play for a coach you trust. You won’t agree with the coach all the time, but it is good learning for your child to know how to follow leadership. By the way, if you have a problem with the coach, talk to the coach, not the child.
  • Encourage and recognize effort, enjoyment, and improvement. Children, as adults, cannot control if they win or not. They may put the greatest effort and play the best game of their lives and still lose. The best way to be supportive is to encourage their hard work, remind them to have fun, and recognize both their effort and improvements. These actions will help you raise more confident, hard worker, and persistent adults.
  • Communicate with your child. Every child will have different preferences, so it’s good to learn what your child likes. A good way is to simply ask them if they like to talk about the game on the way home or if they would rather have some time to reflect first. It is also important to let them know (clearly) that they can seek you to talk even when you don’t ask questions.
  • Their goals should be theirs. Make sure you are not forcing them to play and strive for goals they don’t care. Sometimes they can handle, sometimes they will start hating the sport, but when the goals are not theirs they will ALWAYS suffer while they are playing. You may be lucky and end up having a champion child but chances are that (s)he would be a champion on track for serious mental health issues.
  • Be a good role model. Remember to model sportsmanship and the value of the above bullet points. You must also show hard work, the importance of enjoyment, and respect the coach and other parents.
  • Have some perspective! Sometimes we get lost on the dreams for our children and forget that the odds are really minimal. It is okay to want the best for your children and to try to provide all the support you can. Just make sure that it doesn’t become a “you must get a Division I college scholarship after all this money I spent on club sports.” Remember that sports should be a way for them to learn important values and skills that will help them be successful in life. Even if they don’t get that scholarship, they will have learned the importance of hard work, teamwork, how to lead and be led, how to control their emotions, and much more. If you let them enjoy and become independent strivers, no matter where their sports career goes, they will be successful in life.

I hope that these tips help you reflect about your parenting. I can assure you that they won’t make you suddenly be sure of all your sports parenting decisions and that you will still say the “wrong” thing at times because we are only humans. But if your kid can see in all these actions that your heart is in a good place and that you will love him/her no matter what their stats are, they will be fine.

Sports Parents: Supporting Young Athletes’ Growth

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