A while ago, a parent called me, looking for sports-parenting advice on a problem she was facing. She explained her daughter was an exceptional student and athlete. As a rising junior in high school, she’d started to separate herself from the crowd on her club soccer team. Interest from Division One college programs had started to roll in, and if she could continue to work hard, she might be headed off to college on a full ride in a couple years.
“So, what’s the problem?” I asked.
“My daughter doesn’t want to play club soccer anymore. Her passion has changed. She wants to quit her club team, focus on academics, and just play on the high school team. Oh, and she wants to be in the school play!”
I paused, before asking again, “So, what’s the problem?”
“Well, my husband says, absolutely not! We have already invested so much money and time into soccer—driving her to practices and tournaments, paying all the club fees and travel fees. We have made a lot of sacrifices!”
“So, you agree with your husband?”
“Not really. But, I worry this will be a decision she will regret later in life. I feel like she is so young, we may need to step in and make this decision for her.”
As I listened to the challenges this mother faced, I couldn’t help but empathize. If my child were closing in on a potential $250K scholarship, I would definitely consider dragging her butt to the finish line, as well!
A million thoughts started to race through my head. I couldn’t give her any advice from my very limited sports-parenting experience. But then, I thought about my 2-year-old daughter, my hopes for her life, and how sports might help her become that person. I thought about why I signed her up for soccer at the age of 2.
I asked the mother, “Why did you want your daughter to play sports in the first place? Ten years ago, you signed her up for soccer. Why?”
The mother paused. “Back then, it was about fun. It was about her staying active. My husband and I knew the positive impact sports had in our lives: Teaching us to work hard, building relationships, and so on. We wanted that for our daughter.”
“So, how has your why changed?”
“Well, now, it’s more about earning a college scholarship, and the experience of playing Division One sports. I don’t want her to miss out.”
When Our “Why” Changes
On the surface, this mother’s challenge is not one the majority of parents face. Many sports parents are stressed about their child not having any scholarship offers. Other sports parents are stressed about their child not having a balance in their life between sports, academics, the arts, and their social life. But, all these parents are facing a similar challenge.
The first challenge is, we enjoy seeing our children excel at sports. When they experience “success”, it’s natural to want more of that feeling—which can be like a drug, as Asia Mape has written about here. We have to be cautious of this trap.
The second challenge is, somewhere along our parenting journey, we change our “why” —our foremost priority. We go from just wanting them to be physically active and to build positive relationships and character to wanting something else.
The more time and energy the child and parent invest into sports, the more it becomes about the destination and less about the journey. Like in the mother’s story I shared, we don’t want to see our children give up on their dream because of a temporary feeling (e.g., boredom, frustration, exhaustion). We don’t want them to look back on their lives and regret having missed out on certain opportunities, or the chance to get into a great school.
Know Your “Why”
Just think—Everything this mother had hoped for since her daughter’s first soccer practice had been achieved. She was fit; she was doing well in school; she had a good group of friends with whom she wanted to continue playing soccer on her school team for fun; she wanted to discover new passions, like being in the school play. All the while, she had clearly acquired a strong work ethic, and the courage to chase her passions!
So, hadn’t it been worth the investment of time and money?
Sports are one of the most influential life activities our children can be a part of. The potential benefits go well beyond a college scholarship and a roomful of trophies. Those trophies will most likely end up where my own trophies and medals currently are—In the basement of my home, in diaper boxes. (Apparently, my wife doesn’t think it would be cool to decorate the kids’ rooms with my sporting achievements!)
The potential benefits of sports go on and on and on! I say potential because sadly, too often, sports do the opposite of what we intend them to.
When I review my list of potential benefits—and the lists of the sports parents whom I put on workshops for—at (or near) the top of every list is the desire for them to be happy and healthy.
We need to stay focused on what really matters as we move forward on our sports-parenting journey. This journey is a continuous barrage of challenges, amplified by the false narrative that we must see our children achieve to validate ourselves as parents.
If we don’t know our “why”—our foremost priority—we can end up heading in the wrong direction and taking our kids with us!
- List all the potential benefits you hope your child will reap from playing sports.
- Then, prioritize these benefits.
- Discuss the top 3 benefits with your spouse.
- Then, think about and discuss how much of your sports-parenting decisions, behaviors, and focus are driven by those benefits.