6 facts you must know about parenting a teen athlete

By Janis Meredith | Posted 1/8/2018

Parenting a teen athlete is a different world from parenting a little-leaguer or a pee-wee player. Things rise: the costs, the stakes, the competition, the drama, and your sacrifices.

Your kids are growing up and changing right before your eyes, but the problem is that as kids mature, many parents stay the same. They try to parent a high school athlete the same way they parented their son in little league or their daughter in U8 soccer.

High school sports are a different game, and if your child is on the verge of entering that arena, brace yourself, because the youth sports ride is going to get even bumpier. Here are 6 facts you must know to keep the experience positive.

RELATED CONTENT: 5 things to do when you think your youth football player isn’t trying hard enough

1. You and the coach have different jobs

As a high school sports parent, your job description actually becomes pretty simple: Support your child, the entire team, and the coach. That’s it. Unfortunately, most parents do not stick to their job description. They blur the lines and try to take over some of the coach’s jobs.

Parents and coaches should be on the same team when it comes to youth sports. But being on the same team does not mean they have the same jobs. Yes, they should both be all about helping kids grow, learn, and have fun in competition, but that is where the similarities should end.

For your high school athlete to have the best sports experience possible, you and the coach must partner together, doing what is best for the kids — not what is best for your egos or insecurities. When that happens, then the real winners of the game will be your kids.

RELATED CONTENT: How to show your children that you believe in them

2. There will be huge mental battles

You’ve probably heard coaches and athletes say that sports is much more of a mental game than physical. In fact, experts say that it’s actually more of a mind game than anything else: 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. Gaining the mental edge in sports will be an ongoing challenge for your child.

The mental game includes the ability to focus, move past mistakes, and persist through adversity. It involves dealing with anger, low self-esteem, head games and perfectionism.

3. Not all dreams come true

Parents often struggle with how much to let kids dream and how much to help them see reality. You may be tempted to be a dream-crusher — with the best of loving intentions, of course — as you try to protect your child from disappointment.

When your child gets to upper middle and high school, the dream-chasing can get costly. If your child wants to make the team, or get playing time or get noticed and ultimately make it to the college or pro level, that might add the desire for travel ball, skill lessons, skill camps, and a myriad of other wallet-draining demands.

At this point, it’s time for some hard questions:

Does my child have the drive or passion? (your child’s actions are the proof in the pudding)

Does my child really have the skill? (get objective opinions on this!)

Are the sacrifices to fuel this dream really worth it? (the cost, the traveling, the sacrifices that every family member will make)

After answering, you will know whether this dream is one that is worthy of chasing.

RELATED CONTENT: 6 things you should see from the sidelines as you watch your child play football

4. Playing time addictions are unhealthy

As your child becomes a middle school or high school athlete, playing time is no long automatic, and most likely will not be equal.

Here’s the honest truth, parents — spoken from a mom who watched her kids play from age 4 through college and whose kids encountered numerous playing time battles — in the overall scheme of life, playing time is not really so important.

But what is important is that your athlete grows tough, learns to fight and work hard, has mental and physical victories, learns how to be selfless, humble, loving and strong. It’s also important to develop good friendships with teammates and coaches.

This whole process of playing sports — unless your child goes on to the pros — is meaningless if your child gets nothing out of it but a lot of playing time.

Stop watching the clock and start enjoying watching your child grow up.

5. Your child is a teenager, not just an athlete

Being the parent of a teenager who plays sports is a double whammy. Not only are you dealing with the demands of youth sports, you are also facing the extreme challenges of raising a teenager.

Suddenly, issues like playing time and team drama may seem insignificant as you deal with hormones, peer pressure and independence struggles. When you add drinking, bad attitudes, and harmful behaviors to the mix, life can become chaotic.

In this season of life, it’s so important that children know you see them as people, not just athletes. Spend time with your child doing something that has nothing to do with sports, have conversations that cover everything besides the game.

Most importantly, don’t assume that just because children are doing well in sports, that they are not struggling in other areas, such as friendships or grades, peer pressure, or self-image. Keep caring for the whole child, not just the athlete.

6. The competitive pressure increases

As children grow, so does the pressure. When they get to high school, they may have to try out for the team, they could be playing in front of bigger crowds, and then they hit varsity and it’s a whole new level of pressure. Friends, news cameras, newspaper reporters, scouts, teachers, family, and a whole slew of spectators are watching them play.

I used to get so nervous for my kids before their varsity games, just imagining what they were feeling! It’s not just the pressure of competition. It’s also the pressure of being in the spotlight. It’s a double whammy of pressure!

Another stress factor for student-athletes is the challenge of balancing school and sports. All these factors pile up on kids and sooner or later, if your child is feeling the pains of stress, you will see the side effects.

One last thing

Remember the bigger picture, always. Youth sports experiences are building blocks for the future. Each game. Each friend. Each coach. Each team. Brick by brick, your child is building for the future.

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.