The involvement of parents in the athletic experience of their children is a given. Without question, all parents should be part of this area of potential growth. But it is often a larger responsibility than realized. A parent’s involvement affects their own child, the coach, the rest of the team, the other parents and the officials. How they choose to be involved often becomes the reflective memories that their sons or daughters have of their entire athletic experience.
Athletics are a very valuable part of the educational process. Parents can be an important component of making participation in sports a worthwhile experience for their child. However, they also have the power to take away from the value.
Why do your kids play? If you don’t know, ask. Ask them what their goals are. Listen and attempt to accept their reasons and goals as yours. This is their time and activity, and they should not have to live up to unrealistic standards of other people. Athletic participation should be a voluntary activity.
Attend preseason meetings and meet the coach. Let the coach know if your child has anything going on in his or her life that would be helpful for the coach to know. This information can help the coach work with your child. Remember to live in the present, enjoy the journey and let the future work itself out.
During competition, be a supportive and positive fan. View the game with team goals in mind. Use words and actions that support the whole team. Get in the right frame and proper perspective before you arrive at the game. Attempt to relieve competitive pressure, not increase it. Encourage kids to do their best and let that be enough. Remember that there needs to be one instructional voice, which is the voice of the coach. Be a verbal encourager but do not go overboard.
Consistently demonstrate the behaviors you want your child to learn from this experience, such as respect others, win and lose with equal grace, be a model of poise and confidence and look upon opponents as friends in the same experience. Remember to be an example to your kids by staying physically active throughout your life.
Be the face your athletes need to see during competition. When they look at you, they need to see the same things you hope for them--positive determination, composure, poise and confidence. Anger, frustration and disappointment will not help any athlete, especially ones that tend to be low-confidence performers.
After the game is a time when relationships can be strained, confidence broken and value displaced with too much advice. It is wise to give kids time and space. The more competitive your athlete, the more time they may need--especially when they have not performed well. Be a quiet reflective listener. Make sure any thoughts shared after the games are about the big picture, such as effort and attitude. Always applaud your child’s efforts. They need more praise than push and more approval than advice. Be aware of your words, reactions and body language.
It is important to understand the pros and cons of specialization. Before age 14 (with the exception of a few activities), kids should play as many sports as possible. Specialization can cause burnout and overuse injuries if started too young. More money doesn’t guarantee more success. You can’t buy your kids an athletic future. Usually the people who want kids to specialize at a young age are adults who profit from it.
Understanding the realities of athletic scholarships is also vital. Only 1 in 1,000 youth sport athletes will go on to receive a college athletic scholarship. But surveys show that 30 to 50% of parents believe that their children have a good chance to play at the college level or even beyond. If a scholarship is your goal, there are many more available for academics than athletics.
Athletics are important and can teach kids so much, but it is only a small part of who your child is. If you really think about why you want your kid to be involved in athletics, it is because you hope that something happens during that experience that brings them joy now and that is going to make them a better adult, a better citizen, parent and worker. Have fun and enjoy the whole experience. It will be over before you know it. You are going to blink, and they will be 18 and headed out the door.
Athletics provide a great opportunity for children to learn lessons about life that they may not learn in the classroom. Join the team of people who are helping them to get the most out of the experience. Have high expectations for your athlete’s behavior.
These are the best things they can take with them into life. Our young athletes will be husbands, wives, parents, workers and citizens much longer than they will be playing sports. Prepare them for success in all areas of their life. Coaches and parents can work together to raise strong kids. Focus on these life lessons: Being part of a team means playing a role, accountability, teachable spirit, mental toughness, resiliency, selflessness, work habits, confidence, pride and humility, discipline and leadership. For more detailed information on life lessons for athletes, visit
One of the things that successful athletes attribute to their success is that they had parents who “released” them to the game – to the team, the sport and the coach. As soon as you know that your child is physically and emotionally safe, one of the best gifts you can give them is to let the activity become theirs.
What is Releasing?
- Trusting their athletic destiny to them instead of trying to control it. Give them control.
- All of the successes and all of the struggles that come with sport participation are theirs.
- Be there to support and encourage, but by taking a step back, you allow athletes to take more responsibility and accountability for their experience.
- Allowing them to develop healthy and positive relationships with other adults outside your family.
- Letting them completely enjoy the experience – and you will also.
- Difficulties are either opportunities for them to persevere and grow or opportunities for us to rescue them.
- There is not a better place than athletics to learn to take healthy risks and to fail. Let them take the natural risks involved in sport without worrying.
- Teach them that failure is part of the experience and it does not mean they are a failure.
Parents can build true confidence by releasing their kids. Each time a problem occurs, parents have several choices: To rescue them, excuse them, blame others or let them grow by solving their own problems.
Kids should not have to live up to the unrealistic standards of other people, including their parents. It is best for kids to have their own goals for athletic participation and for parents to adopt their kids’ goals.
Their achievement level should not be more important to you than it is to them. Never confuse how the athlete performs with who the athlete is. And do not get too far ahead in your own goals.
Youth athletics can be one of the best experiences of a young person’s life, or it can be one of the worst. Oftentimes, it is the adults involved in the experience who have the most influence over the positives or negatives. Do not be a source of or add to the negatives.
When players are stressed out, it is often because their parents are stressed out or try to control everything. When you try to coach them from the stands, the message is, “Listen to me and not your coach.”
When parents blame or complain about officials or coaches, they are probably raising an excuse-maker. Whether you agree or disagree, learn to accept the judgment of the officials and coaches. Do not make excuses.
The emotions after a game are too high for parents to step in and start offering advice. Save your analysis. They don’t need it. They need time and space to recover. They do not need someone to go through a list of all the things that they could have done better. Giving unwanted advice after the game is like saying, "You don’t know how to figure things out, so I’ll figure them out for you”, “You can’t do this without my help” or “I know a lot about this and you don’t.” The less you give advice, the more likely they are to ask for it, so choose wisely. Keep your criticisms in check. Save your analysis of them, their teammates, the coaches, the officials and the other fans.
Your child should never look at you for approval when they are competing, but if they do, what will they see? The last thing any young athlete needs during a game is worrying about their parents being upset or stressed about their performance. Anything we do that would make them feel like their value to us is somehow tied to athletic performance or outcomes of games (good or bad) has long-term negative effects on most kids.
Kids need us to be the voice of reason and to bring them back to why they play in the first place. We also must be a voice of reason for ourselves. We must always remember that kids play the game for the joy they get from it. It is up to us to be there for them and help them remember this when they are struggling. It is also up to us not to add to the pressures or demands that they may place on themselves.
Remember not to sacrifice your family to the demands of youth sport scheduling. Additionally, do not lose your perspective and focus on the big picture because it is kids that suffer.
The joy of playing the sport is the #1 reason that kids play sports. However, there are many lessons that sport can teach young people. Remember that as part of the big picture, your child is learning a lot about how one behaves, works and interacts with others. Don’t ever forget that the life lessons that kids get out of sports can help shape them for the rest of their lives. What kinds of lessons do you want them learning from this experience--positive or negative? Help them grow and develop from this experience. Do not get in the way of their learning.
There is only one guarantee in any sport season: It will not be perfect. Let go of perfection and trying to save kids from every problem. Athletics provides a place where we can “cut the cord.” Don’t try to smooth out all the bumps in the road.
Over scheduling and over managing can create more stress and anxiety, hurt performance and take the fun out of the game. Also avoid the natural tendency to critique the game.
Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves. If you have someone who does things for you that you can do for yourself, you remain dependent. And do not protect kids from failure. Failure is inevitable in sport, so don’t treat it like it is more important than it is. If you catch yourself trying to prevent kids from failing, you are cheating them from some of the greatest lessons sports can teach, such as courage, perseverance, mental toughness, resilience and humility.
In every athletic competition there are only four roles: players, coaches, spectators and officials. Before you get to the game, it is better for the athlete if everyone just chooses one of those roles. Trying to get the team to perform well is the responsibility of the coaches and the players. It is the job of the official to make the judgment calls. Parents can contribute by being encouragers and confidence-builders.
When you really get to the core of why we want our kids to play sports, all of us hope that the athletic experience provides an opportunity for our child to have an enjoyable experience while they play the game and to help them become a successful adult. We hope something happens during the 3 or 4 months with the coach and teammates that will help our young people to become a better parent, worker and citizen.
When your kids look back on this time in their lives, what memories will they have? By meeting their needs in this arena, they will see us as part of the good memories and as confidence-builders, and we will have done our job. Keep in mind that the athletic experience does not last long. Blink and it is going to be over. You can’t trade them in for a better athlete, and they can’t trade you in for a more supportive parent.
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