Many years ago, a 9-year-old boy sat in my office, tears threatening to spill from his big brown eyes.
“They think I’m better at it than I am,” he whispered. “They think I’m some kind of star or something.” He was talking about baseball.
And his parents.
In the coming weeks his mom would express anxiety, sadness and confusion about his insistence on quitting a sport that she believed would be his future. She told me that he’s the best on his team. She shared his triumphs. She proved to me that baseball was the one thing he needed. Yet, week after week, he would sit in my office and tell me that he wanted to be someone else. Each time, his confidence faded just a little bit more.
Sadly, I've seen this play out again with other kids many times since.
According to a recent survey of more than 300 high school coaches in Alabama, sports parents are getting worse. Citing a number of factors, including helicopter parenting and social media, 60 percent of coaches who responded to the survey believe that parental behavior with respect to student athletes has gotten worse.
Check out a few of their findings:
63 percent of respondents considered quitting because of parents
64 percent state that a child has complained about their parents’ conduct
45 percent had to speak to a parent about conduct during the most recent season
Bottom line: Parents are interfering to the detriment of their own children.
It's easy to get caught up in things like winning, playing times and preceived talent, but the truth is that most kids aren’t actually headed for the pros.
I’ve been an athlete, coached youth sports and watched from the sidelines. While I don’t know how my mother felt watching me from the stands many years ago, I do know how it feels to be watched as a coach. I also know what it’s like to watch a parent yell at a child or a coach during and after play. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t feel good.
It's easy to get caught up in things like winning, playing times and perceived talent, but the truth is that most kids aren’t actually headed for the pros. Even so, team sports can be a huge source of growth and learning for kids.
Instead of worrying about the future (Scholarships! College! Olympics!) of your little athlete, try to zoom out and focus on the bigger picture, instead:
1. Promote teamwork
When parents hyper focus on playing time, performance and statistics, they ignore the fact that team sports teach kids to work together. “We win or lose as a team” is a mantra that helps kids focus on building each other up instead of stepping over one another to be the best.
Resist the urge to dissect the game play-by-play on the car ride home and talk about the great teamwork you witnessed, instead. When kids learn to focus on working together, they learn life skills that will take them from the soccer field to the boardroom. Games will come and go; learning to be a team player will help them for the rest of their lives.
2. Step back
Unless you’re the coach of the team, your job is to step back and enjoy the ride. Is it hard to watch your child lose a game and miss the shot that might have changed the outcome? Sure. Will yelling at the coach or your child or another player change the end result? No.
Let your child lead when it comes to athletics.
I find that many parents intervene because they want the best for their children. They don’t intend to start an argument or present as angry—they simply want to help their kids succeed. You can’t engineer athletic success for your kids. You can support them. You can cheer for them. You can even help them practice. But you can’t meet their goals for them—that’s on them. Learn to step back and enjoy your child from a distance so that your child can thrive on the field.
3. Evaluate your own emotions
It’s perfectly natural for parents to bring their own emotions to the field. Sometimes we want our kids to have an experience that we remember as fulfilling, while other times we want them to have more than we had. We all have these flashback moments somewhere along the parenting journey. The key is learning to separate our own emotions and needs from those of our children.
Take the time to do a gut check. Ask yourself these questions: Why do I want my kid to succeed in this sport? How will I feel if she quits? What is my child actually telling me about playing this sport?
When the mom of the little boy mentioned above finally did her own gut check, she found that she wanted him to play baseball because she thought it would provide a group of friends for life. She struggled to make friends at an early age, and she wondered if team sports might have saved her from feeling like an outcast.
Let your child lead when it comes to athletics. Some might want to play competitive sports through college, while others might play a few seasons here and there. If you step back and let the coach do the coaching, you just might find that your child gets exactly what she needs.
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