First of all - I’m not a parenting expert nor an expert parent. Far from it. I was a "step-parent" for a short period of time, but the majority of my experience with kids comes from coaching hundreds of them over the years and developing relationships with them, their parents and coaches.
I have spent the
past 20 years of my life in the athletic development and performance field, working with
athletes of all ages and abilities while studying kinesiology, sport psychology
and athletic administration. Prior to that I spent the vast majority of my youth,
adolescence and young adulthood playing a variety of sports competitively. Now that I'm old, de-conditioned and slowly developing a "dad-body", I prefer to focus on assisting young athletes in achieving success in sport and life, rather than chasing down my glory days.
Albeit brief, being a good parent was easily the most challenging and rewarding job I’ve ever had. I made plenty of mistakes along the way and learned how to be a better
parent and person from each one. That process will never end. I think every parent is in the same boat when it comes to that (at least they should be). We do our best or what we think is right at the
time, learn from our mistakes, and improve as parents and people as a result. That’s
what life is about- Live, Learn, Improve, Repeat.
One of the best parts about being a parent, coach, teacher, and adult is having the
opportunity to make a positive impact on the kids that we come into
contact with along their journey in life. I know I deeply appreciate the adults who believed in
me, showed support and compassion, listened, offered advice, and pushed me to improve as a person and achieve my goals along the way. That list starts with my
parents and includes some coaches, teachers and other parents. Now as a coach, teacher and adult, I strive to get on the lists of kids today. I think we all should.
I thoroughly enjoy watching kids develop as athletes and people. I also enjoy interacting with their parents and coaches, and
have become friends with many of them over the years. Most of the parents I have met are terrific. They are positive, supportive, and set a
great example for both their kids and other parents. They get it.
Then there are the parents
who take things too far and have a largely negative impact on their young athlete’s
confidence and enjoyment of sport. This list includes:
1. Parents who lay into their kid following a loss or a game in which they may
have “underperformed”. We’ve all seen or heard about one of these jerks. I struggle
to understand how anyone would think this kind of behavior is helpful in anyway to to
any kid. Instead of deflating our kids’ self-esteem, let’s encourage them to learn from
their mistakes and get back out there with the confidence, desire, and work ethic to
improve, with the ability to play THE GAME without fear of parent repercussions. There
are far more productive and less damaging ways to communicate with our kids.
2. Parents who put an enormous amount of pressure on their kid to be a great
athlete and live vicariously through them. The last thing a young athlete needs is
the pressure of living up to their parents’ expectations. We all had our chance to
achieve our athletic dreams. Let’s let our kids strive to achieve THEIR athletic dreams,
if it’s what they want for themselves. Of course we all want the best for our kids. We
want them to work hard and be successful in sports and life. However, in reality the chances of our kids playing a sport professionally or earning a college scholarship are
slim. That’s not intended to burst anyone’s bubble- it’s just a statistical fact. If they don’t
intrinsically posses the requisite combination of passion for the sport, desire to be great,
athletic ability, and work ethic to achieve that level of athletic success, nothing we do or
say as a parent is going to make it happen. The best we can do is provide them with
the opportunities and exposure (within our means) that will facilitate their athletic
development and improve their chances of achieving their goal and more importantly,
the support and guidance that will help them to be happy, high-caliber human beings
with strong character, compassion for others, and the motivation to achieve their goals
in life. So let’s focus on doing that instead.
3. Parents who coach their kid from the sideline during the game. Although this
seems to be pretty common and often well-intended (on some levels), it really isn’t all
that beneficial. I’ve talked to numerous kids about this over the years, and they definitely
hear parents on the sidelines. While some may be able to phase it out, others are
distracted by it, especially when it is negative or critical in nature. As parents/fans, we’ve all
yelled out something other than encouragement at some point. We’re excited, we see
an opportunity unfold on the field/court/ice, and we want to let the kids know about it. It’s
a pretty natural instinct and happens all the time at all levels of sport, even in your living
room when watching a game on TV. So that’s probably not going to change. We’re
human and have emotions. Unfortunately, some parents take things too far and
completely distract their kid or others from focusing on the game by being negative or
critical of their play. This does nothing but increase the probability of the kids getting
discouraged, losing confidence and overthinking things, which results in decreased
performance. So let’s all be more mindful of keeping things positive and encouraging.
That’s what kids seem to respond to best.
4. Parents who immediately begin to “coach-up” their kids after the game. Most of
us have been guilty of this on some level as well. We think we are helping. Unfortunately, outside of doing it
during a game, this is probably the worst time to critique and “coach-up” our kids. They
just got “coached-up” by their COACH for two hours. If our kids want to talk about the
game and get feedback, that’s fine. Some kids do. That said, no one enjoys being told the things they did wrong
following a tough loss or a less than ideal performance on their part. Who does? In
fact, talking about that stuff usually results in inaudible mumbled responses or crickets. Keeping things positive and general
after a game seems to work best for everyone involved. So let’s save the coaching for a later time, once the dust
has settled and the kids are in a more receptive frame of mind.
5. Parents who make negative comments about their kid’s teammates, coaches
and the officials in front of their kid. If we want our kids to be coachable, good
teammates, and display good sportsmanship, let’s teach them to be respectful and
considerate to all of the above. No one wants to play with, coach or officiate a
disrespectful kid. That starts and ends with us. If we have complaints about the
coaches, other players or officials let’s try to keep the verbalization of them to a minimum around our kids. If our kids start complaining about these people on their own
or act out during games or practices, it’s our responsibility to redirect them and teach
them the right way to do things. Our kids’ athletic ability is not indicative of our
parenting, but our kids’ behavior and how they treat others definitely is.
Look - none of us are perfect sports parents. We’ve all been guilty of at least one of
these behaviors at some point along the way. Though we typically have good intentions
and do these things because we love our kids and want them to be successful, they
often backfire. It happens. We’re human. So let’s learn from these instances and
Sports are an excellent learning ground for an abundance of life skills. They help to
teach our kids how to deal with success and failure with dignity, overcome adversity,
develop and maintain confidence, and work to achieve goals individually and with
others, to name just a few. So let’s do what we can to facilitate that development rather
than impede it with our own emotions and behavior. As we improve so will our kids.
Live, Learn, Improve, Repeat.
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