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How Parents Make or Break Youth Sports

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I love coaching youth soccer. I love the energy little kids bring to the field. I love that U7 soccer players are happy and resilient. I love that they genuinely want to learn the game.

I also love that sometimes they just want to run around the field and have fun with their friends.

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I'm the assistant coach of my son's team this season, and this group of boys is full of energy and silliness. They all seem to get along, and they want to learn how to play together.

Sometimes they just want to play Star Wars in the middle of a game with kids on both sides of the field. They want to play the sport, but they also want to be little—that's a wonderful combination, if you ask me.

Parental involvement and parental attitude play key roles in making sure that these benefits last.

Even better, their parents seem to genuinely enjoy watching them play. At one point during the first game, I turned around to see every parent smiling and cheering. A few were taking pictures. The positive energy from the sidelines made for a great youth sports experience.

Sadly, it doesn't always work out that way. Although my kids have been lucky with great teams and positive experiences, I often hear that the competition on the sidelines is worse than the competition on the field. Apparently, the race to success reaches beyond the classroom and into the world of youth sports. Yikes.

The benefits of youth sports are numerous. Kids learn to work together. They learn sportsmanship. They get exercise while having fun with friends. They learn a new skillset. They build resilience, and they learn to cope with losing.

Parental involvement and parental attitude play key roles in making sure that these benefits last. In short, how parents approach youth sports can make or break the experience for the child.

However, when parents compete from the sidelines, kids feel increased pressure to perform. Instead of building resilience in the face of small failures on the field (an important life skill), kids become frustrated and angry. Good sportsmanship fades away fairly quickly when kids feel the pressure to succeed at all costs.

Positive sideline behavior models team spirit to kids. When parents make an effort to work together to support the team, children internalize the value of community and togetherness.

Kids can even experience anxiety when they feel pressure to perform on the field. They might have trouble sleeping the night before a game or withdraw from the sport entirely.

Kids often mimic comments made by parents. If parents make disparaging comments about other players' abilities, children will internalize and repeat those comments at a later date. This can negatively impact team unity and team spirit. It can also lead to hurt feelings all around. When youth sports stop being fun, kids burn out and quit.

When parents support their children from the sidelines, children thrive. It's not that parents need to praise every move made on the field or provide constant input. It's that their input should be positive in nature.

Positive sideline behavior models team spirit to kids. When parents make an effort to work together to support the team, children internalize the value of community and togetherness.

Some kids might stand out as more skilled, but all kids have something to offer the team. When parents keep their sideline behavior in check and choose to get to know each player on the team, they model the importance of teamwork and finding strengths. They build kids up and teach kids the power of building each other up.

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Youth sports can be a lot of fun for little kids. Keep the positive energy flowing by keeping your competitive nature in check and helping your child become a team player.

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