So you have a pre-schooler, elementary, or middle school child, and he plays sports. Did you sign him up for t-ball, gymnastics, or tennis? Golf, football, or swimming, maybe?
You are taking her to weekly practice and weekend games, spending several hundred dollars and countless hours on the court every month, and you want to see her succeed!
Do you have your eyes on a college scholarship? Maybe you just want your child to learn to be competitive and win?
No matter the reason why you have enrolled him in those weekly classes, how can you be the best parent to your sporty child?
We talked with Maya Castro, the author of The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports. She believes that the young athletes’ parents’ behavior have a major impact on the environment their children evolve in. She gave us her 5 tips on how to improve youth sports culture:
Strive To Be A Mentor
Think about what playing sports brings to your child – outside of scholarships and potential financial gains. Use sports as a teaching method to give your child tools that will help him succeed in life.
Castro says “sports should be an extension of family values and behaviors.” Use a tough day on the course as teaching moment for all those tough days your child will need to learn to navigate in adult life. Use victories to teach your child how to best behave and keep growing from them.
Parents and coaches can use situations encountered on game days as a teaching platform. In youth sports, children are learning and it should remain the focal point for all athletes.
Model Positive Behaviors
There is one thing that drives me crazy when I watch sports. And for those who do not know this about me, I played college golf on an NCAA scholarship, got 2 national championships, am a 4-time All-American first team golfer, and ranked 7th best amateur golfer in Europe for a while… I have played my share of competitive sports, and the following aspects is still driving me crazy.
Have you noticed coaches yelling at referees on the field? How about parents? This NEEDS to stop. RIGHT NOW!
It is unacceptable and the last thing you want your children to witness. If your child is reprimanded or penalized by a ref or his own coach, do not intervene. Let the child learn from the situation and model the positive behavior expected of you – the adult parent.
Have a calm talk with your child after the game, debrief on the situation and ask your child what he could have done differently and how he can change his behavior to avoid the situation in the future.
Enjoy The Moment
We, parents, all know the meaning of this sentence much too well – “The hours are long but the years are short.”
Let your child enjoy his childhood and make memories of playing, learning, winning, failing, getting back up, and figuring it all out. You don’t want her, nor yourself, thinking back on all those years and remembering the yelling, tears, and disappointments.
No scholarship is worth the fights and destroyed relationships. Show your child your trust, teach him to work hard, value effort over results, and enjoy the moment!
There are plenty of other parents, fellow athletes, and coaches to remind your child of everything she did wrong. Your role, as the parent, is to have posed debrief sessions with your child, where you recognize the effort, the concentration, and good intentions; without letting the mistakes cloud your comments.
Believe me, no athlete tries to do wrong. No athlete purposely misses a shot. Yes, the attitude and skills can be worked on and improved, but your child is not trying to do wrong during the game and probably feels as frustrated as you do.
My children are involved in several sports and I feel the same way you do: “I spend all that money and time and they seem to not care… If only they practiced more seriously… Why can’t they be as focused as that other child… etc.” And while we are allowed to think it, I know that no one is having a good time failing on the field…
Instead, turn the situation around and ask your athlete how he felt out there. What can he do to improve? Which areas have room for improvement (mental, particular skill or shot, etc.), and what plan will be put in place to bridge the gap?
Be encouraging and do not make your child feel like he needs to play perfectly to receive praise. He is learning SO MUCH in failing!
Make Education First
Let me say this first – the odds of your child being the next Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, or Tom Brady are extremely low.
If you want to bet on your child’s success, focus on their education.
Not only very few athletes achieve top rankings, but your child could become ill or injured, burned out, or even turn pro and earn too little to make it. Your best bet will ALWAYS be education.
As a parent, be supportive of your child pursuing athletics and make the sacrifices you can, but never loose sight of academics. Never ever assume that your child will be the next superstar.
Instead, give them the tools to push through on both fronts. They are learning invaluable skills, which will carry them through life – a strong sense of ethics, hard work, and persistence.
Once their athletic career is over, they will likely have 30 active years in front of them, when those skills will serve them immensely in the workforce and everyday life. But make sure their education was given enough attention so those 30 years are as fruitful and engaging as their youth sports years have been!