One of the unfortunate truths of life is that we usually see the problem and its answer very clearly – after the fact. The old adage “hindsight is 20/20” is never more evident than when it comes to youth sports. Only when your kids are grown do you finally figure out that all the hard stuff they went through actually helped them.
However, one of the best ways to become better parents is to learn from the mistakes of others. I share these mistakes freely with parents worldwide today, hoping they can avoid some of my parenting blunders.
If I had it to do all over again, there’s a lot I wish I’d known. No matter where you are in your parenting journey, these are the things you need to know when your child plays sports:
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1. Your child won’t always be treated fairly.
This is a sad reality of youth sports. Some kids work very hard and still do not get the playing time they think they deserve or get to play the position they desire.
Youth sports is plagued with unfairness, but learning to deal with it is part of growing up emotionally, for athletes and parents.
2. You will want to fix things for your child. Stop yourself.
It’s parental instinct to feel we must step in to fix things for our children. But that usually is not what’s best. If your children cannot learn to fight for themselves now, how will they do it when mom or dad is not around?
Resist the temptation to complain to the coach about your children’s playing time or the positions they’re playing. Encourage them to have that conversation with the coach. Let your child learn to solve the problem on their own. If your child comes to you for help, ask questions to help the child do the thinking.
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3. You cannot force motivation on your child.
When parents try to motivate their children, they usually end up with “solutions” that are only temporary Band-Aids. Comparison, bribery, pushing – they may work for a short period, but will fade over time.
The only true motivation comes from within. The bottom line is this: if your child doesn’t want it, it’s not going to happen.
4. Your child does not have to play a sport year-round to stand out.
Encourage your child to play a variety of sports, or at least engage in a variety of physical activities in between their preferred sports season.
The verdict is in on specialization. It’s not a requirement for success.
5. Your family will have to make hard choices and sacrifices.
You will be tempted to fall into the youth sports money trap, hoping that enough of it will buy the right team, the right coach and fix all of your problems. This does not have to be the case. There are plenty of ways to save money.
That being said, you will still have to make sacrifices: You will have to decide how many sports your child can play, which teams can you afford, how often you can take off work or miss family events because of games, and which child will feel neglected this week because of another sibling’s game?
Sacrifices are not the problem. The assumptions and the lack of communication about them are the problem. Be sure you have a family meeting to talk about the sacrifices that each person will have to make for the upcoming season. Your family is a team, and teams work better together when everyone learns to sacrifice.
6. You will be tempted to take youth sports way too seriously.
When you get way too tense at your kids’ games, constantly push your athlete to practice and perform, get really upset at wins, losses, and stats, then you are probably taking the game way too seriously.
Competition is tense at times, but it’s also supposed to be fun. This is not the pros, or even college. Youth sports is about development, fun, and learning, not creating mini professional athletes.
7. Blaming the coach never resolves an issue.
You will be tempted to blame the coach for many things that go wrong. There may be times when the coach is legitimately at fault. But whether the coach is to blame or not, blame does not resolve the issue.
Instead of blaming the coach, say, “Coach, I’ve noticed this problem … what can I do to help?” or, “What do you think is best for every kid on the team?”
8. Some of your behavior may send the wrong message to your child.
Your behavior should say loud and clear to your children: I love you, believe in you and support you.
But often, your behavior says otherwise. The comments you make from the stands or the drilling you do in the car after the game may communicate that only a good performance gains your favor or that nothing they do will be enough to please you.
Think about your words and how they will sound to your child. Think how you would feel if someone said those same words to you about your job. Be sure that your actions are backing up your words.
A few hindsight thoughts
Even though I made lots of mistakes as a sports mom, I learned from them and that’s the only reason our kids grew from their experiences. It was hard to watch them struggle, but those challenges are what made them the strong adults they are today.
The question every parent must ask is this: What will your child have to show for playing sports?
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.