Have you ever said something to your athlete you wished you could take back?
Between the car ride to the game, the stands, the sidelines, and the car ride home from the game, there’s a lot of damaging words spoken by parents to their athletes.
Words can hurt. Words can cause lifelong damage. Words cannot be unspoken.
I love the song by Eric Church called “Kill a Word.” In it he talks about words he wishes he could “kill” or get rid of when they cause pain.
If I could kill a word and watch it die
I’d poison never, shoot goodbye
Beat regret when I felt I had the nerve
Yeah, I’d pound fear to a pile of sand
Choke lonely out with my bare hands
I’d hang hate so that it can’t be heard
If I could only kill a word
In youth football, there are lots of words that should be “killed.” These are the words that tear down, discourage, and squash the spirit of young athletes.
If I could “kill” or get rid of some words in youth football, here are my top five:
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There’s a difference between excellence and effort, and perfectionism. In its purest sense, striving to be perfect is not a bad thing, but perfectionists turn it into an obsession and as a result, they are extremely hard on themselves when they fall short. Some of them spend too much time lamenting and beating themselves up, instead of learning from mistakes and moving on.
I’m not talking about quitting at the end of the season because your child is ready for something else. The kind of quitting I’d like to extinguish from youth football is the kind that athletes do when things get hard or when the season is not going the way they want it to go. Quitting is not a good habit for your child to get into. When children stick it out through the tough times, they gain inner strength, something they will miss if they continually quit.
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“I can’t” is a phrase that my husband never liked to hear from the kids he coached or from our three kids. There are a lot of reasons for self-doubt in athletes, a lot of them stemming from how others treat them. But when children lack self-confidence, they cannot play their best. Self-doubt says, “I don’t believe in myself; I can’t do this. I don’t even want to try.” On the other hand, self-confidence says, “I can do this, but if I make a mistake, I’ll do it until I get it right.”
Politics is often perceived as a distasteful word in everyday life, but in youth football, it’s definitely ugly. Politics means “to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for advancement.” When coaches and youth football parents play politics for the advancement of a certain child or a certain team, it turns youth football into an adult circus that leaves the kids wondering what the heck is going on.
Kids cannot play to their potential when youth football coaches, parents or teammates do not believe in them. I saw the power of a coach’s belief in the life of my son; even after a bad game, the coach expressed that belief in him.
But flip the coin and you will see that mistrust will most likely bring out the worst in someone.
I know there are times as parents when our kids lose our trust and it must be earned back. But in the arena of youth sports, a cloud of mistrust felt by an athlete from his coach or teammates can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Will you make an effort to “clean up” the language of youth football so that …
perfectionism isn’t celebrated,
quitting isn’t encouraged,
self-doubt is diminished,
politics is abolished,
and mistrust is squelched?
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.