The Wild World Of Youth Sports: Advice For Parents Of Young Athletes

By Sara Vigneri

It’s easy to judge crazy sports parents and I would be lying if I said I didn’t do a little judging myself. Their willingness to ramp up the stakes of a friendly youth sporting event to the level of a European soccer match makes them an obvious target. But let’s be honest, there is a bit of crazy lurking in any mom or dad who spends incredible amounts of time or money supporting their child’s sports activities. Even if you swore to yourself that you would never be ‘that person’, you might be surprised at the rush of emotions that hits when you watch your child put their neck on the line.

I have never screamed or yelled from the sidelines. That’s not my style. But periodically I find myself surprisingly affected while watching my daughter. It’s a combination of knowing how much she practiced and wanting desperately to protect her from experiencing failure. One time, when I thought another kid was roughing her up, I found my heart racing and I knew I had to walk away. But at that moment I understood how easily that surge of adrenaline can affect someone’s behavior.

Unfortunately too many promising young athletes turn away from sports because their parents become insufferable. Nearly 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13. Some find that their skill level hits a plateau and the game is no longer fun. Others simply discover other interests. And, a lot of kids reach the conclusion that if they quit the sport, maybe they’ll get their dad or mom back.

Even professional athletes can behave inappropriately when it comes to their children. David Beckham was once ejected from a youth soccer field for questioning an official.Even if you tend to be ‘that’ parent, you can still control that primal urge to scream like a maniac from the sideline. Here are some tips to help you be a good sports parent:

Model Good Sportsmanship

When you project poise, control and confidence, your young athlete is likely to do the same. Discuss what it means to be a good sport and ask them why they think it’s important to say “good game” and shake hands with their opponents, win or lose.

Unless You’re The Coach, You’re Not The Coach

Let the coaches do their jobs. Yelling instructions at your kid from the sidelines is not helpful. It’s been shown to actually inhibit their athletic achievement and performance. They may not tell us this, but kids hate it when we coach them from the bench or bleachers.

Be A Good Listener And A Great Encourager

When your child is ready to talk about a game or has a question about the sport, be all ears. Then provide answers while being mindful of avoiding becoming a nightmare sports parent.

Don’t Discuss Other Players – They Are Kids

Maybe you think one kid is terrible; or another is sort of a ball hog. Any assessment you make of other people’s kids should be kept to yourself. We’re talking about children. It’s not OK when kids say mean or disparaging things about their teammates. It’s infinitely worse when adults do it.

Don’t Discuss Mistakes Right After The Game

In a recent study, student athletes overwhelmingly stated that their worst memories of participating in sports were the car rides home. In the moments after a game, win or lose, kids desire distance. They make a rapid transition from athlete back to child. And they’d prefer if we transitioned from spectator or coach, back to mom and dad.

Tell Them You Love To Watch Them Play

College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”

Offer Encouragement Not Pressure

It’s sometimes difficult to know the difference between encouragement and pressure. There are things parents can do to check themselves. For example, asking: “Did you have fun?” before asking “Did you win?” or “Did you score?” Try to approach your kids’ games as if you were a grandparent. Grandparents tend to have a more laid-back attitude, exuding an “I’m just happy to be here with you” vibe that young athletes said they loved.

Praise Your Athletes Whether They Win Or Lose

It’s okay to be disappointed after a rough loss or a tough game. You can be guaranteed your child will be. But praise and rewards should be doled out in equal measure regardless of the outcome of the game. The thing about sports is that you are going to lose sometimes. Learning how to accept failure and keep moving forward is one of the most important things sports can teach us.

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