Andre Collins: Why parents should allow their youth sports athletes to struggle without intervening

By Andre Collins | Posted 8/2/2018

What a joy, when my son Chet plays a great game! Ah, that’s my boy!! Then again, there’s probably nothing worse in all of sports than watching my son pitch a tough inning or miss a few easy layups on the basketball court. I know, without a doubt, the sports gods can be cruel. Even with practice and preparation, somehow the ‘sporting god of adversity and humility’ finds his way to the action.

As a parent, nothing pains me more than seeing my kids struggle. It hurts to watch those humbling moments that competing in sports can create. Watching those life lessons unfold right before my eyes is all too familiar because I’ve had my shot blocked, struck out and fumbled the ball many times. I know how that feels. I know how that stuck in my head. I know that embarrassment. Therefore, I know my son’s pain. I want to hug him, demand a do-over or take on some of those other kids myself.

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But let me stop. What in the world is driving my need to make his experience perfect? Why should I care so much if he fails?

I tried. I failed. I lived. I know those tough days made me better. Tough days bruise, but people survive. I had to stop myself from managing every second of Chet’s sports life. Which meant I categorically needed to shut up.

I stopped giving tips and advice right before and right after games. I think about my own loving father, who didn’t come to every game like parents do today. That wasn’t a thing back then in the 1970’s. When I had a bad game, I walked that mile home alone, no parents, with my friends laughing a little about other stuff. I knew I didn’t play great, but I worked those feelings out in my head without my father’s consoling. I survived, and somewhere in that process I developed a resiliency and spirit to get better, to do better and to try again.

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I have knowledge about competing and preparation. I’ll find appropriate times to share good advice with him.

For now, I give him his space to process. I realize he needs the space to breathe and mourn a poor performance and to feel good about himself when he plays well. He must develop his own coping skills. He’s a boy becoming a man through the competition of sport.

I’m still learning new things about fatherhood and I'm glad I could realize this is my son’s chance to grow. 

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Action Creates Opportunity. Let your ability to pull back, listen and be still create an opportunity for your kids to experience life and become the people they were meant to be.

This article originally published on USA Football contributor Vanessa Mejia's blog, Confessions of a Sports Mama. Andre Collins played 10 seasons in the NFL for the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, and also played at Penn State University. He played for the Redskins' 1992 Super Bowl champion team and the Nittany Lions' 1986 national championship squad. He's currently the executive director for the NFL Players Association's Professional Athletes Foundation.