How hard should you push your child in sports

By Janis Meredith | Posted 2/24/2016

If you have a child in sports, perhaps you know the dilemma: whether or not to push, and, if you do, how much is too much?

The word “push” has gotten a bad rap. Our youth sports culture has given us a negative impression of pushy, controlling parents. But if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit as parents we are always pushing our kids.

We push them to eat, to go to bed, to do their homework, get outside/ In fact, there are some days when we feel like we spend our whole day just pushing.

Pushing simply means, “to press or urge into some action or course.” So we may as well accept the fact that as parents, we will always be urging our kids to take an action of one kind or another.

I don’t think it’s possible to be a good parent and be totally apathetic about what our children do. We’re hardwired to push.

But the questions are: When do you push? How do you push? Why do you push? And how much do you push?

When do you push your child in sports?

If you see that your child is interested in something, then a little encouragement may be appropriate. It’s OK to push a shy child to play – as long as he or she wants to play but may be apprehensive. It’s OK to encourage your child to try something new and fun, even if it’s something challenging.

It’s important that kids learn to stick with something, so when your child wants to quit after the first two games, it’s OK to push him to finish the season and then maybe try something new next time. Teach your kids not to give up easily.

But if your child doesn’t want to play and you’re constantly pushing him out the door, it might not be the right sport or the right time for your child. After the season is over, move on to something else.

The bottom line is that if you push your child, you might realize there is only a need for a little shove, not constant riding.

How do you push your child in sports?   

Up to 50 million kids play youth sports in America, and 73 percent who begin playing a sport quit before they turn 13, according to statistics from organizations like the National Council for Youth Sports. It could be that the problem lies not in the fact that parents are pushing their kids to play but in how they are pushing.

Perhaps they should try positive pushing, which looks like this:

Ask the right question after practice or games. How did practice go? How did you feel about your game tonight? One question shows your interest, while too many can feel like undue pressure.

Offer opportunities for your child to work outside of practice. If he says no, drop it and bring it up at another time when he is ready to work on improving.

Be at as many games as you can. It communicates your support and may encourage him to push himself.

Offer praise for hard work. It communicates support without attaching your love to your his performance.

Let him bask in and enjoy his good games, points scored and games won. When hard work pays off, he will be motivated to push himself.

Remember, positive pushing is an art form, not a science.

Why push your child in sports?

There is a difference between pushing kids to succeed at sports and pushing them to try. If you push your child to succeed, then you might only praise a good performance. But if you push your child to try, then you praise effort and hard work.

The answer to the why question boils down to two options: You either push your child because it’s something you want, or you push because it is something he wants.

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to pushing: When you give your child a nudge to do something he wants, you are watering a seed that is ready to sprout. But when you push because it is something only you want, you are trying to water an empty flower bed with no seed or sprout.

How much do you push your child in sports?

Parental nudges are often necessary. There’s a fine line when it comes to teaching your kids to try new things and pushing your kids so hard that they hate the sport. Your child needs some inner motivation to succeed.

There comes a point when your child has to learn to push himself if he wants to be a long-term athlete. Your job is to give an occasional shove and then let him learn to push the rest of the way.

If you want to see your child get the most out of youth sports, learn how to nudge your kids and then let go. That’s the best way to help them grow up.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.