The Struggle Is Real
For the first ten years of my coaching career, I never understood or could empathize with the sports parent. I’d played sports from the age of three all the way into my twenties, playing Division One college basketball at the University of South Carolina. I’d coached in three different countries at every age and level imaginable.
Still, I didn’t understand what the parents were going through. I hadn’t dried my children’s tears after getting cut from the team, getting yelled at by the coach, sitting on the bench all game long, or losing the big game. I hadn’t sacrificed what they’d sacrificed—the financial investment, the countless hours of shuttling kids around, and the time rebounding, throwing, or kicking the ball around with them.
As a coach, I struggled to see it, but as a parent, I have started to see the sacrifices the parents make, the challenges they face, and the pain they sometimes endure at the expense of their child’s sporting career. I am currently the parent of two children. My oldest daughter is two-and-a-half, and my son is fifteen months old. At the brink of my “sports parenting career”, I have not only started to empathize with other parents of athletes, but I have started to contemplate the very important question: What type of parent do I want to be?
My First Mistakes as a Sports Parent
Sports Parenting Mistake #1: Dreaming of your son playing in the NBA just because the nurse tells you he has big feet.
So, I need to be honest: When my daughter was only fourteen months old, and sprinting up hills, flying down slides, and jumping into forward rolls, my eyes would light up. Olympic Gold Medalist?
When my son was only ten minutes old, and being weighed and measured by the nurse, she observed how long he was, and said she had never seen a baby with such big feet. My heart jumped. NBA All-Star?
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already wondered if my children could be the next Steph Curry, Serena Williams, or Lindsey Vonn.
Sports Parenting Mistake #2: Signing your two-year-old child up for sports and expecting anything productive to happen.
Look at this cute little girl, picking dandelions at soccer practice:
Some silly father paid over $100 for six Saturdays of thirty-minute soccer practice. This silly father thought he could show up with a cup of coffee and a lawn chair, and sit back to watch his daughter dribble through cones on her way to becoming the next Carli Lloyd.
Instead, what this silly father got was a daughter who was more interested in water breaks, picking dandelions, and running over to the playground adjacent to the soccer field.
This silly man was me.
In all seriousness, I am very aware of my own competitive drive, and I know that if I am not intentional in the way I parent my children—especially regarding sports—I could easily become a nightmare sports parent.
So, as my children start to play sports (my daughter just did gymnastics for the first time last week), I need to start to be intentional in the way I promote and support them in sports moving forward. Otherwise, I will wake up one day, and I will be far from the sports parent I want to be.
What Type of Parent Do I Want to Be?
I’ve been around sports a lot; first, as a player, and then, as a coach. So, I’ve seen the many different approaches parents take, and I’ve witnessed and experienced their effects on the children, the coaches, and the team. I’ve been very critical of these parents, especially in my coaching days. But it wasn’t until recently that I started to really reflect on which type of parent I wanted to be. Before, I would just think and say things like, “I don’t ever want to be like that guy!”
After reflecting on who I am as a person, I came to admit that my default mode of operation as the parent of an athlete is probably the crazy guy cheering and coaching his kid from the sidelines, yelling at the referees, and critiquing every decision the coach makes! But, I don’t want to be that guy— the guy kids, coaches, and even other parents can’t stand!
When my kids are finished with their athletic careers, and they are sitting back and reflecting on their sporting days, how do I want to them to remember me as a part of their story? When coaches reflect on their time coaching my children, how do I want them to remember me?
I want my kids to know they were loved, regardless of what they did on the field or court. I want my kids’ coaches to know they were appreciated for their sacrifice, and I cared most about the positive example they set for my kids, not their ability to teach skills or make great tactical decisions. Also, I want to be a positive example for the other parents by modeling the right behaviors when supporting our children and the team.
So, whether your kids are just starting out, or they are nearing the end of their sporting career, take some time to reflect on this question: When it comes to sports, what type of parent do I want to be?