Parenting Young Athletes

Have you ever been to a youth sports game or match and seen something in the stands that surprised you?  Maybe a parent was yelling at an official, yelling at their child, or even yelling at parents of the other team.  I've been to basketball games that couldn't be finished because of the behavior of people in the stands, and those running the tournament were afraid of a brawl.  These events are taking place at an increasing rate, and it is changing youth sport as we know it.

Parenting in youth sports is becoming a new focus in sport psychology, but the message hasn't been conveyed very well to those who need it.  What I want to do here is give a little guidance to parents, from a sport psychology perspective, that will hopefully result in a more positive experience for the young athlete.  I do realize that there are many parents out there with lots of knowledge and experience in this area and may not need this information, but I urge you to read this and spread your knowledge to those who are new to sports parenting.

The first issue to address is the true value of sports.  I hate to break it to some out there, but the odds of your child playing their sport professionally are very slim.  Even their odds of receiving a college athletic scholarship are slim.  If that's the case, why wouldn't we strive to make the experience fun and filled with lessons?  That is, after all, what I believe sports were created for.  I like to say that sport is a microcosm of life, except you can take risks in sport that won't have drastic results. Parents need to be open to their kids learning these lessons because this is their thing.  It is their activity and it is a great opportunity to learn and have fun.  Last night, Drew Brees broke the NFL passing yards record and his message to his kids was that "you can accomplish anything in life you are willing to work for."  Notice that he didn't say anything about football or how great football will be for his boys.  Through his football experiences, he's teaching a lesson about life.  Going through the youth sports experience with this view as a parent will limit some of those expectations that make many parents so frustrated.

Speaking of expectations, lets talk about the effects of pressure on the young athlete.  It's pretty clear in the research that pressure and overly critical sports parenting has negative effects on a child's self-esteem, motivation, and other aspects of well-being.  Instead, parents need to be supportive in all things and try to pull their kids to the positive side of the spectrum, as opposed to having a consistently negative view.  This means that parents need to worry more about progress and less about outcome.  I'm not saying that parents can't be critical at times and have to look at everything through rose-colored lenses.  But if you are going to critique a child, make sure it is based on their attitude and their effort, since those are parts of the game that they can control, and not on things like statistics.  One particular form of pressure that is creeping into youth sports lately is the pressure to specialize in one sport at a young age.  It's my view on this subject that playing a variety of sports, even into high school, is beneficial for kids both mentally and physically.  If you want more information on early sport specialization I suggest that you do a little research on the subject, because sports burnout and overuse injuries are becoming very big issues in youth sports.

There is not one parent of an athlete that has done everything right, and there never will be.  I can tell you right now that I will make many poor choices as a sports parent and there may even be times that what I say or do will be embarrassing to my child.  The point is that parents can always make an effort to be better.  If we can expect our children to improve as athletes, they can expect the same of us as parents.  Try to separate yourself from your child's sports experiences while still providing as many opportunities as possible, because those lessons will mean a lot more to your child if you can do that.  If you don't know how to approach something, ask someone who has a lot of experience and knowledge.  You can even contact me if you want, because I love talking about this subject.  As cliche as it sounds, it really is just a game.  The good things far outweigh the bad as long as sports are viewed that way.


Popular Posts