May 08, 2017 • 6 min read
There are a lot of good sports parents out there. I was one of them. That doesn’t mean, however, that I handled the job perfectly. In fact, I made a lot of mistakes. What made me a good sports parent was that I learned from my mistakes.
Sometimes you can avoid learning from your own mistakes by learning from the mistakes of others. I’d like to share with you the top mistakes I’ve seen sports parents make and give a few hints on how to avoid them. Have you made any of them yourself?
I got way too tense at games. I got more upset about playing time than they did. I was more interested in what transpired at practice than they really wanted to talk about. I was more concerned about them improving their skills and working hard than I should have been.
I learned how to fight this mistake—and you can too—by doing several things:
Sports parents get frustrated. And sometimes when you feel that way, the first reaction is to interfere in the process. For example, I used to come home and vent to my husband about youth sports. His reaction (because he’s a coach and he knows what it’s like on the other side of the bench), was to say, “No, stay out of it!” Mine, on the other hand, was to say, “Yes, speak up and say something to the coach!”
When our kids were young, we had a conversation or two with their coaches, and we did send a few emails, but to be honest, our kids never wanted that kind of help. We learned that the battle was best left for them to fight.
The best way to avoid this mistake is to make a rule for yourself that you will not talk to coach about playing time, position or even other team issues. Tell your young athlete that if he/she is frustrated with these issues, he/she needs to talk to the coach. You can help your young athlete think through the conversation, but let him/her do the approaching. (I do make exceptions to this rule when there are safety or moral issues at stake.)
Interfering will not make the difference. The only thing that will make the difference is your child; his or her effort, coachability, work ethic, communication and leadership.
As parents, it’s easy to say things without thinking. Whether it’s saying something insensitive to your young athlete after a game, or joining in on their rants about the coach or a selfish teammate—your words carry weight.
Usually, these types of verbal rants are just a way for you to vent and do not resolve the issue.
Avoiding this means that you must practice the habit of thinking about your words before you say them—not in every conversation, but definitely with touchy issues. You know what irritates your children and can probably guess how they will respond to certain comments or questions. If you think your words might be interpreted incorrectly, filter them.
Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to motivate your kids, it’s sometimes better for your relationship if you let someone else do the motivating. It may be that a coach, trainer or teammate can do it better than you can.
When parents try to motivate, they sometimes do things that simply don’t work: Comparison, bribery or pushing kids to do too much. When I tried to motivate my athletes in this way, it simply didn’t work.
The way to motivate your young athlete is to be a positive, encouraging voice and to be there when they ask. You can also give them opportunities for growth: Training, coaching, camps, clinics—but you can’t make them motivated. That only comes from inside them.
I was one of those moms who laid awake at night worrying about my kids. Will she make the team? Will he get the starting spot? Will she get much playing time?
Worry is powerful. It makes you do things you don’t really want to do. Instead of wasting your energy on worry, pour your thoughts into productive questions: “What is this experience teaching my child? What is my child learning through this?” These questions will help you find an appropriate response that might actually help the situation.
If you make any of these mistakes, your child is not automatically ruined. Give yourself some grace. You are not going to be a perfect parent. The key is remembering a very simple rule that parents and coaches are always telling athletes: Mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.