Positive Sports Parenting
It wasn’t too long ago that my daughter began to hate the sport she once loved. Our relationship was suffering, and this amazing and once mostly happy girl had become someone I hardly recognized. She was anxious, depressed, and, quite frankly, miserable. I wrote about our experience HERE. I know we are not unique. I’ve had so many people reach out since writing that article, sharing their own stories and similar experiences. At its core, sports should be positive, fun, and additive to our kids’ lives. If they aren’t, it might be time to try a new way of doing things. Here are five ways to change your course and become a positive sports parent for your child on their youth sports journey.
Five things sports parents need to get right.
1. Remember The WHY.
At some point on this journey, most sports parents will subconsciously begin to expect an ROI for all they have put towards their child’s sport. In turn, we lose track or forget the real reasons we should want our kids to play. It’s not about college; it’s not about bragging rights or social status or our own unfulfilled needs. The reason we want our kids to play sports is simple. It’s for all the incredible gifts our kids gain from playing sports. In case you need a reminder, here are just a tiny fraction of them: They learn how to be gracious winners and losers, time-management skills, time away from screens, expanded friend zones, good for their health, learn to get along with others who might be different, learn to work towards a common goal, and how to handle criticism and praise. Sports are correlated particularly with females around improved confidence, better grades, fewer drug and alcohol problems, and leadership roles in business. Need more? Sports develop character traits like leadership, gratitude, humility, bravery, self-regulation, perseverance, and grit.
And here’s the kicker: almost all of these get enhanced when your child struggles. If they’re not the starter. If their team loses the big game. If they don’t make the club team. Anytime they fail. Hopefully, knowing this and understanding this can take some pressure off of them and you around outcomes and expectations, which brings us to #2.
It can be a little or a lot. Direct or indirect. It doesn’t matter. Because any amount of pressure that says you care more about their sports than their happiness and well-being, and you’ve already probably lost them.
Our job needs to be easing pressure, not adding to it. Unconditional love, hugs, excitement, being a happy face in the crowd, and a calm, loving, positive car ride home – regardless of the outcome on the field.
If our kids have a bad game, THEY ALREADY KNOW. They don’t need us parents to reinforce that—not with our words, our expression, our body language, or our failure to stop for ice cream on the way home.
If you use these simple questions to guide your every decision, you will not only raise happy and healthy athletes, but they will also be successful because you will be allowing them ownership over this process while setting clear guidelines and values about what is meaningful in your family and in life.
1- Is it age-appropriate? Before the age of thirteen or prior to puberty, fun and multi-movement should be the focus. Kids should play and practice no more in a week than their age. Kids should be sampling many sports and following sports seasons. They shouldn’t become multi-simultaneous athletes, trying to play multiple sports at one time.
2-Is it what my child wants? Or steps towards THEIR goal, not mine or a coach’s or anyone else’s? This WILL CHANGE often. So communicate regularly with your child about what they want.
3-Does it make sense for our family, for the value system our family upholds? Just because other teammates are doing the two-week sleep-away camp doesn’t mean your child has to. Don’t be afraid to talk about priorities and budgeting with your child. It’s good for them to know you aren’t willing to allow youth sports costs to take the place of a family vacation. Make decisions around what your family values are.
By stepping into the present moment, you step out of their game and out of your reactions to it. You are able to brush off the bad call, ignore the energy on the sidelines, and instead focus on being a positive presence for your child. You might intellectually understand and want to do this, but it’s difficult unless you have the tools. Mindfulness teaches you the tools; it shows you how to put space between the event and your reaction. There are many apps, books, and digital content that is free and easy to access about mindfulness. But remember, it’s practice, and you have to keep on practicing. No one is ever perfect at it.
Psychologists explain it as “a form of social contagion involving the spread of behavior through a group. It refers to the propensity for a person to copy a certain behavior of others in the vicinity or to whom they have been exposed to.”
What does this mean to you? It means that positive behavior can just as easily become the norm on a team as bad behavior can. We learn what is acceptable by watching those around us. There is no lack of examples of youth sports parents doing the WRONG thing, but we need to start actively engaging in doing the right thing. Being a calm and positive sideline influence. Letting other parents know that yelling at the players, coaches or referees isn’t acceptable. Speaking up when the travel, time and money expectations are too high. Having open discussion with the coach about time off for vacations and recovery for the kids. Standing up for what’s right, so it becomes the norm not the exception. Sports parents need to create an environment where detrimental or bad behavior isn’t accepted, and it begins with each one of us.
More articles like this one: