There are millions of sports parents in the world today, but how many of could actually be described as great sports parents?
Many sports parents get the job done physically. They get their kids to practice, watch games, wash their kids’ uniforms. But they fall short when it comes to providing healthy emotional support. The difference between sports parents and great sports parents is knowing that who you are is just as important as what you do.
After 22 years of sports parenting, and after many more years of seeing other sports parents in action, I’ve identified 6 things that great sports parents know and do for their kids.
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1. They know that youth sports should be fun and they let themselves enjoy it.
The admonition to “let kids have fun” is preached soundly today by youth sports experts, but I think that advice needs to go a step further. Great sports parents not only recognize that youth sports should be fun for kids, but they also choose to have fun themselves.
Enjoy the journey. Look for the little victories. Don’t take yourself and your child’s game so seriously. Sports parents have a bad habit of spending way too much energy and time on things that simply won’t matter in 10 years.
This doesn’t come easily or naturally; it often takes discipline to find something worth celebrating. But I promise that you will enjoy the youth sports journey a whole lot more if you do.
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2. They know that mistakes are for learning and they give their kids permission to fail.
Letting your child learn from mistakes is key to their growth. If your children are able to wipe the slate clean and quickly move on from a mistake, they will have a better chance of reaching their potential. There’s a good chance you already know this, but have you voiced it to your children? Have you told them that mistakes are not the end of the world and they can learn from them and be better because of them?
Or have you made a big deal of mistakes by harping on them and reminding your child not to do “It” again?
How do you give your children permission to fail? You can tell them that if you’d like, but what will speak louder than your words is how you act when they do make a mistake and how you recover from it. If you have children who are harder on themselves than you are, then you may have to be very intentional about saying and showing that mistakes are no big deal. They are opportunities to learn and get better.
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3. They know that success is not given, it’s earned and they let their kids do the hard work.
I once heard that there are five basic steps to success:
1. Show up.
2. On Time.
3. Every day.
4. With a great attitude.
5. And do the right things consistently.
Unfortunately, many kids do not understand that success must be earned with loyalty and faithfulness in doing their jobs. Success is not given to anyone. Success is not owed to anyone.
4. They understand that it takes a team, and they model that to their kids by doing their part to help.
As your children play sports, they are learning that it takes a team to get anything done. Are you modeling that concept to them?
One way to do that is to do your part in volunteering and being part of the support “team.” One parent cannot do it all, just as one player cannot play the game alone. As you model teamwork to your children, talk to them about the importance of being on a team. This is just one of many teams they will be on in their lives.
5. They recognize the futility of pushing too hard and instead opt to do more listening and asking.
Parents who push their young athletes too hard may find that it backfires in a number of ways: Children want to quit because they’re burned out, the parent/child relationship deteriorates, or maybe the child just learns to tune you out.
If you really want to help your children succeed, stop pushing so much and start listening and asking more. Let your children talk without jumping down their throats when you disagree with them. Ask questions that help them think through situations and let them learn to come up with their own resolutions.
Gentle nudges are OK, but constant pushing rarely has long-term and healthy results.
6. They believe that the bigger picture of youth sports is paramount and they let that drive every sports parenting decision.
What you believe in, drives what you do. Parents, if you believe that your children must score a lot, be on a winning team, get their names in the paper, be a starter, or get a college scholarship to be successful and enjoy youth sports, then that belief will drive every decision you make in youth sports.
But if you believe that youth sports is not all about wins, stats, and college scholarships, that it is an opportunity for your children to learn key lessons that will stay with them for life, then you have bought into the philosophy that the bigger picture of youth sports is what’s important. That belief should drive every sports parenting decision you make.
Let’s be honest, the chances are slim that your child is going to get a full-ride scholarship to college and end up in the pros. If you are counting on that, and in the process, ignoring all the amazing opportunities to help your child learn huge life-impacting lessons, you have missed out on a gold mine.
As you strive to be a great sports parent with these six suggestions, you will find that, not only does your child have a much more enjoyable youth sports experience, you too will enjoy the journey.
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 how she can help parents have Less Stress and More Fun in Youth Sports.