Most parents are doing the best they can to give their kids a great childhood. But sometimes, our good efforts can be more harmful than helpful to our kids. Here are 5 common mistakes most sports parents (including me) are making, unintentionally or unknowingly, that have a negative effect on your child.
By Alex Flanagan
5 Mistakes Sports Parents Make
FAILING TO ENJOY THE FUN OF FAILURE: I was recently reminded what our kids take away from their sports and what we do as parents are two totally different things. My 11-year old played her first volleyball game with her 6th-grade school team. They lost in two games in a row. There were maybe three tangible rallies in the game, and 90% of the serves didn’t make it over the net. The parents sat wringing their hands and drooping our heads. “Painful” was the adjective used to describe watching our group of girls learning the game of volleyball. Yet my daughter popped into the car when it was done and turned to me and joyfully said, “I think I kind of like volleyball! That was fun.” Unfazed by the loss, she cartwheeled on the court after the game and sang in the car with me on the way home. It was a great reminder that the experience, especially in youth sports, is much more important than the outcome.
ORCHESTRATING OUR CHILDREN’S TEAMS: There is a difference between arranging for your child to be on a sports team with friends and assembling an all-star team that won’t lose a game. Believe me, I know it feels good to win, but a talented team doesn’t equal a better experience, and maybe more importantly, placing your kid on a superstar squad might actually hurt more than it helps them. (Remember it is about the experience–see above). Consider this. Kids care about winning far less than parents do (see above). Children would rather have a meaningful role than being part of a top-ranked team and sitting on the bench all the time. Kids need to play to develop. Plus, a super select sports team that leaves kids of varying levels out is teaching exclusion instead of inclusion, one of the most beautiful lessons youth sports teach.
SIGNING KIDS UP TO PLAY ONE SPORT YEAR-ROUND: There is an overwhelming amount of information about the damages we are doing to our kids by over-saturating them with one sport. Still, year-round sports seem to be growing in popularity. Early Sports Specialization has become so prevalent that it now has its own initialisms like other syndromes, disorders, and diseases. The medical community calls it ESS–Early Sport Specialization. Almost all the experts agree that early specialization is often more harmful than helpful and that sports sampling is essential when kids are developing (ages 5-12 years).
UNDERESTIMATING THE DIFFICULTY OF PLAYING THE SPORT: The last time my kid’s elementary school invited parents to take part in PE with the kids, one parent separated a shoulder, and another tore an ACL. It’s easy to coach from the couch, but before you tell your kids to shoot more often, run faster, or focus, you try doing it! I played flag football the other day with my 8-year-old. I had no idea how hard it was actually to get your hands on those slippery little flags! It’s made me think twice about screaming, “Come on! Just grab his flag,” on Friday nights.
OVER SCHEDULING: Do you feel exhausted from all the schlepping you are doing? Then I can guarantee your child is tired of it too. There is a fine line between keeping our kids busy, active, and out of trouble and burning them out. Studies show it is girls of educated parents with high incomes that tend to be the most overscheduled. If you never have time to plop down on your daughter’s bed in the afternoon or evening and check in on her life, eat meals together at least a few times a week, or if you find your child doesn’t have any downtime to spend with friends, you might want to re-evaluate their schedule. I loved this recent article one of my friends posted on Facebook on how simplifying childhood might actually protect our kids against mental health issues.
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com, and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.