Youth and interscholastic sports can be an overwhelming experience, especially for kids who play year-round in competitive leagues (i.e. travel leagues). The more games kids play, the more they risk injury and sports burnout, making the job of a supporting parent that much more challenging trying to provide a great sport experience while at the same time minimizing risk and harm. While some parents still ascribe to the philosophy of leaving their kid alone to figure it all out, a more responsible approach is to be an active parent and guide kids through the stressors and pressures associated with youth sports.
The need for active sports parenting
Granted, sport parents who take a passive approach guiding their kids through sports may still see their kids enjoy a great athletic experience, but with so much going on in youth sports today why take that chance? Young athletes these days are faced with new questions around seemingly every corner, from whether or not to specialize to how much time to take off in order to minimize threats of sports burnout. Even more important, and the biggest reason for active sports parenting, is so that kids can not only maximize their athletic abilities on the field, but also learn and develop vitally important life skills that can help them off the field.
Quick tips for successful, active sports parenting
Sport parents who take an active role in guiding their kids through the new complexities of youth sports dramatically increase the chances for an optimal sport experience. Having worked with student athletes for nearly 25 years at my practice, I have found the following to be important ideas for sport parents to consider in order to maximize chances for sport — and life — success.
- Help kids identify their own interests. One common theme I see from families I work with is trying to determine what is in the best interest of the kid. Some parents make all sport decisions without any input from the child. Later, when they see their kid disinterested in playing a sport, they are confused – and sometimes even angry. A better approach is to regularly involve your child in sport decisions, and then listen closely to what he or she wants to do in the future. Getting your kid’s buy-in on sport decisions will increase intrinsic motivation, improve focus, and strengthen resiliency — all great qualities to develop for sport success.
- Teach basic life skills. Organization, communication, planning, and resolving conflicts are just a few of the more important life skills young athletes need in order to succeed. Rather than hoping your kids learn these skills through sports, try to find specific examples of how life skills can be used in specific situations — and then provide examples whenever possible. For example, parents can teach kids how to keep a sports schedule, how to communicate directly with the coach, and how to resolve interpersonal conflicts with teammates in order to improve team culture.
- Face up to fear of failure. Arguably the greatest fear we experience in life as human beings is the fear of failure, and this is also a common theme in youth sports. Help your kids understand that failure is a big part of sports, and to find creative ways to learn from losses rather than use them as validation of failure.
- Teach basics of stress. Similar to dealing with failure, young athletes need to also find ways to effectively appraise and respond to stress. Some common athlete stressors include making the team, fighting to be a starter, dealing with a tough coach, and overcoming sports injuries.
- Identify and use ATS. In addition to teaching kids life skills, it’s equally important to show kids how to parlay sport skills (also known as athletic transferable skills) to the classroom, their future careers, and all aspects of life. For example, if your child is confident competing on the field, but not so confident taking tests, then a great parent goal should be helping your son or daughter make important connections how his or her confidence can be used from sports to the classroom.
No longer is it enough for parents to passively sign their kids up for sports and watch what unfolds. Instead, parents interested in using sports as a teaching tool and life skills development are encouraged to take an active role in the youth sport experience, especially as this applies to future goals and decision-making. Help kids navigate the ever-evolving world of youth sports by providing choices, listening closely to your child’s input, and parlaying athletic transferable skills into life experiences beyond the playing field.