These 5 sports parenting principles can change your child’s youth sports journey–and yours.
Do you ever feel like you are parenting in the dark, groping through the darkness of the unknown and barely seeing one step ahead? You question your decisions, doubt your parenting strategy and wonder how you will successfully raise decent humans.
Parenting an athlete adds a whole new level of complication to life. So many times during 22 years of being a sports mom, I remember feeling as if I was floundering in the dark, with nothing to grab onto and help me take the next uncertain step. I didn’t have a “how-to” book (and in fact, have had to write my own since then).
But now, I know better. I know what’s important, what’s effective and what’s worthy of focus. And so, today, I’d like to give you some “handles” to grab onto so that even if you feel you are groping in the dark, you have something to grasp, something to help you take the next steps with more confidence.
#1: The I-Can’t-Control Principle
The premise of this principle is that you really cannot control your child’s youth sports experience. You may try, as millions of parents do, to manipulate situations so that your child has a wonderful, happy experience, but the bottom line is still the same: you are not in control. And if you try to be, you will really make a mess of things.
When you realize that you cannot control everything your child is going to face, you give up trying to fight their battles and you stop trying to smooth their path so that they face no challenges.
The only way to have total control is to wrap your child in bubble wrap and lock them in the house. And even then you have no control over how they are going to react to the situation.
So, the best way to let this principle guide your sports parenting is to stop hovering over your child as they play and stop trying to fix situations that are frustrating to your child.
#2: The Look-Ahead Principle
One of the best questions that every sports parent should ask themself when faced with a trying time is this: Will this matter in 10, 5 or even 1 year?
Most sports parents spend way too much time, emotion, and energy focused on things that are not going to matter down the road in life.
Oh, but you say, My child’s self esteem could be injured if he doesn’t get enough playing time. No, your child’s self-esteem will only be injured if they base their identify on the minutes they play. This is where YOU come in. It’s not the lack of playing time that will traumatize your child, but how you handle it and how you help them handle it that could.
It’s important to remember that there is a bigger picture to youth sports. The awards are fun and the wins are awesome, but there is nothing more important than who your child becomes in the process.
Look ahead to the type of human being you want to raise and then focus on getting them there, instead of getting too wrapped up in how much they score, what position they play and how many minutes they are in the game.
#3: The Blame-Game Principle
Sometimes it feels like the best way to soothe anger and frustration is to find someone to blame. This happens daily in our world and youth sports is no exception.
Your or your kids want to blame the official, the coach, a player on their team, or the weather. I remember one game when my middle school daughter was catching and her dad was coaching. She was struggling behind the plate and was close to tears as she loudly informed her father that she couldn’t see because the sun was in her eyes. Now, in her defense, it was setting and was shining in her eyes, but blaming the sun was not going to solve the problem. Sunglasses, on the other hand, might have!
The problem with blame is that sometimes it’s true. It may very well be a bad call by the official, a poor decision by a coach, a thoughtless action by a teammate, or a wet field that caused the problem. But blame never solves the problem. Blame just makes the blamer feel justified and actually may keep them from looking for ways to improve so as not to face that mistake again.
Blame is a bandaid for a broken arm. It doesn’t get to the underlying cause of the problem.
So when you look for someone to blame for your child’s mistake in the game, for their unhappiness with their coach, for their discontent with the position they are playing, think again. Will placing blame actually help resolve the issue? Or does it merely help you feel better?
Instead of looking for someone to blame, try these options:
Offer solutions to the problem. With a positive attitude, make thought-through suggestions that actually address the heart of the problem.
Have a conversation with your child. Talk about the tendency to blame and why it is a useless way to address problems.
Examine yourself. Are you allowing blame to be your default? Are you letting it taint your perspective? Is your child following in your footsteps and using blame too?
Finding someone to blame for your child’s mishaps or frustrations will not make your child a better athlete, only a more entitled one.
#4: The Fun Principle
This principle is pretty simple: youth sports should be fun. Now, that doesn’t negate hard work at all, it simply means that fun and hard work can go together.
Stop sucking the fun out of your child’s youth sports experiences! You do that when you take the game more seriously than they do, when you become too controlling, and when you forget that mistakes are not fatal, they are for learning.
It’s okay if your child laughs and has fun playing. It’s okay for kids to be silly at practice every now and then. If kids are having fun, they are more likely to play longer and the longer they play, the more they will learn about hard work, rewards, and earning success.
Always, always, keep fun in the game.
#5: It’s-not-my-game Principle
This is your child’s game. This is your child’s journey, your child’s process. It’s not your game. You had your chance years ago. Now it’s your young athlete’s chance to grow, struggle, and have success. The more you interfere and control, the less youth sports becomes about your child and the more it becomes about your ability to fix things for them.
How about you watch from the bleachers, enjoy the game and let your child learn and grow without you constantly taking over for them?
How to Use These Sports Parenting Principles
The next time you feel like you are walking blind through the sports parenting journey and you have no clue what is the right thing to do, these principles are handles to grab and help you take the next step. Write them down and keep handy so you can refer to them at a moment’s notice.
If your child comes home from practice and is frustrated and discouraged about not getting enough reps on the starting squad, grab onto one of these principles and apply it.
When your child comes home wanting to quit because they don’t like the team. Grab one of these principles and apply it.
When you come home angry from a game because your child sat on the bench way too long, grab one of these handles and apply it.
When you are uncertain and don’t know what step to take (I’ve often felt like I was groping my way down a long dark hallway as a parent) grab one of these 5 principles and apply it. Use them as handles to help you take the next step.