You will not treat pee-wee players the same as sixth- through eighth-grade athletes. When kids reach middle school sports, there is now the added challenge of peer pressure, friend drama and hormonal changes.
What does a middle school football player need from you as a parent? Here are six suggestions that will help you navigate the potential minefield.
1. Keep fun in the game
At this stage, children need to be learning about commitment, hard work, and discipline. They need to know that sports is not always a laughing matter, but they should never have fun entirely extracted from the experience.
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If there is not some element of fun, your middle-schooler may decide that sports is not worth the hassle. If that happens, it’s up to coaches and parents to show kids that fun and hard work can go hand-in-hand in youth sports.
2. Be patient with the process
Every athlete has good and bad games. Every athlete will make mistakes. It’s all part of the learning process, especially at this age. It’s easy for coaches and parents to get impatient with the process. We want kids to learn immediately, or at least in a few days or weeks, but some lessons take much longer.
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3. Stress being a team player
This is the stage when kids begin to realize they are not automatically guaranteed a certain amount of playing time. All kids should play. However, they will not play an equal amount of time. Many coaches will play the more-skilled players longer, as long as they come to practice, work hard, and are great teammates. This is a tough adjustment for many kids, but your positive support is important. Help your child understand the role the coach has given them and encourage your child to shine in that role.
4. Understand your changing role
Your parental roles are changing as you learn to let go little by little. You do not have to have all the answers, you do not have to solve all your child’s problems, and you do not have to smooth the path for every step your child takes. Just as your child is learning to do some flying alone, so to speak, you must be learning, little by little, how to let go.
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5. Help your child control the controllables
Help children focus on the parts of the process they can control – practice, working, paying attention, being coachable, being a great teammate – instead of outcomes, which they can’t –scoreboard, missing a scoring opportunity, not playing much or well. When they have success, reward them with a comment like, “Great job at finishing strong. All that work that you put in is paying off!” and “Way to hang tough and keep a great attitude when things were getting rough out there. You have really become someone your teammates can count on!” When they struggle, focus more on perseverance or some other quality that helps them deal with adversity.
6. Allow for middle school emotions
This is the age that hormones kick in and emotions are sometimes hard to control. Stay as calm as possible with them and help them learn how to deal with teammates and stressful game situations. Give them tips and tools they can use to deal with their emotions; don’t just let them flounder through the emotional quicksand, trying to get through it alone. At this age, you might want to start to work with a mental toughness expert.
I always used to joke with my husband that he could deal with our kids when they were middle-schoolers, and let me know when they get to high school. But the honest truth is, middle school kids can actually be pretty delightful. Your patience and tough love will go a long way to seeing them through without too much turmoil.
Janis B. Meredith is a life coach for sports parents. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about good sports parenting habits in her book 11 Habits for Happy & Positive Sports Parents, available on Amazon.