Sports parents have their work cut out for them these days, from deciding on the type of league for their child, the training methods they will follow, and the types of sports they will sample (or specialize on one). Over-riding all of these decisions, however, is the philosophy and parenting style to be used while raising young athletes. Is it best to push hard and assume you know more than your child, or work in a partnership that encourages the child’s opinions and thoughts?
Having worked with thousands of sports families, leagues, coaches and administrators, I have found sports parents to generally fall into one of two categories: Those who tend to use fear-based measures to push their kids, or those who empower their kids in healthy ways to play their best. In both cases parents have the similar goals pertaining to their child’s sport success, but the means used to get there differ dramatically.
Below are contrasting styles between fear-based and empowering sports parents:
A.) Fear-based encouragement. This type of sports parenting occurs when parents over-invest in the youth sport experience, often vicariously living out their own unmet sports goals. These types of parents make all sport decisions for the kid (without any input from the kid), and “motivate” through yelling, threatening, bullying, and sometimes even by using discipline measures if the kid fails to live up to playing well on the field. In worst cases, kids feel like they have to impress their parents by sport accomplishments to earn their love, and/or experience stress from feeling “locked in” to having to play a sport(s) they don’t necessarily enjoy.
B.) Empowering parental encouragement. Sports parents who use this approach rely on more pro-social measures, including encouragement, reinforcement, modeling, listening, and providing healthy guidance. Kids with empowering parents benefit by being an instrumental part of the youth sport experience as they are regularly asked about how they are progressing, what problems they may be experiencing, and what sport goals they have for the future.
Help your kids gain invaluable life skills, enjoy playing sports, and ultimately reach their full athletic potential by using the best psychological skills and approaches that empower kids to invest fully in the youth sport experience. To accomplish this feat you must commit to the process, work out your own “unfinished business” with unmet sport dreams, and prioritize your child’s best interests over your own.
So how do you do you become a parent who empowers, rather than intimidates? The following 4 tips are designed to help you get started:
- Take pride in the youth sport experience. Studies show that when we feel a part of something we take ownership of it, and consequently work harder and take pride in our accomplishments. For sport parents it is important to respect team rules, arrive to practices early and prepared, cheer as much as possible, and display healthy sportsmanship at all times. Additional ideas include using social media to create a team Facebook or Twitter account, volunteering in the community, being involved in local events (i.e. 4th of July parades), and attending college or pro games as a team.
- Make sport decisions as a team. Sport parents should encourage their child to offer thoughts and opinions when it comes to the types of sports the child would like to play, as well as the number of sports to sample throughout childhood. Rather than immediately signing up for league after league without consulting your child, take time out to review the last sport experience, distinguish your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests, and fully evaluate all the requirements and expectations for sport leagues in the future to see if they conflict with other sport, academic, and social goals. When kids feel like their opinion has no bearing on sport decisions, there is a greater risk for motivation and focus issues, poor effort on the field, and even premature quitting.
- Use a lot of positive reinforcement. The best way to shape your child’s future behaviors is to use positive reinforcement when you see him or her making genuine efforts on the field, even if the results aren’t quite there yet. When kids see they you are observing their hard work and effort, they will be much more invested in the process and motivated to play even better in the future. Your attitude and enthusiasm are better than specific sport skill your child might learn, as it is the pride they feel knowing they are pleasing you that will propel them to do what they can to reach their full athletic potential.
- Solicit and value your child’s feedback. We all like to have our opinions heard — even kids! For this reason it behooves parents to ask their child questions, and listen closely to what he or she says when answering. By taking this approach it does not mean that you hand over all decisions to your child exclusively, but instead suggests that taking a family (team) approach will allow for the best variety of ideas and suggestions for future sport decisions. When soliciting your child’s feedback listen closely, allow time for your child to speak, and clarify unclear comments when necessary. Feeling empowered relies on feeling like you are being heard, so try and provide this opportunity to your child whenever possible.
As with most things in life, the more effort you put in to your child’s sport experiences, the better the chances for healthy and productive life growth and development. No child wants to feel intimidated and bullied into playing a sport, and just about every child wants to feel like their parents have their best interest at heart by empowering their sport experiences every step of the way. It is for this reason that sport parents consider adopting an empowering role in their child’s development.