Sports Parents & Coaches Can Use Youth Sports as a Mental Health Boost for Kids
These last few years have been challenging for people, especially with an ongoing pandemic and a divided country politically. Kids have also faced difficult times, including changes in schooling (remote learning), missed sport seasons and activities, and limited opportunities to socialize with friends. While most adults will rely on developed coping skills to make it through these tough times, many kids are still struggling as evidenced by spikes in mental health inquiries and the serious nature of their reported psychological concerns. As we continue to accommodate kids in distress, adults (including sport parents and coaches) can make a real difference when it comes to youth sports by guarding against inappropriate outbursts and other obnoxious behavior and instead bringing positive energy, support, and encouragement for healthy child development.
Sports can be the best antidote
The #1 reason why kids play sports is to have fun, but more often than we would like to admit that “fun” is overshadowed by inappropriate adult behavior from the stands. Sadly, one of the the best places for kids to recharge their batteries (through sports) is sabotaged when we — the adults — fail to keep our emotions in check. The end result? Missed opportunities for kids to briefly get away from the stress of these times and begin to get back to normal, and only because of adults negatively impacting the fun of youth sports.
The good news is we can provide an optimal youth sport experience if we commit to doing so, and the benefits that flow from these efforts can dramatically impact kids in healthy and constructive ways. Rather than going to youth sports with a clenched fist and ready to argue at the first bad thing that happens, we can instead prepare ourselves in healthier ways by remembering the following:
- Keep the focus on now! Remember, only about 5% of all kids will have the athletic talent needed to eventually earn a D-1 scholarship, serving as a solid reminder of the importance of enjoying every moment now rather than constantly making decisions around how to make it to the next level.
- Be realistic. The truth is your child is going to make mistakes, do things he or she should not do, and sometimes play below his or her ability and potential. Furthermore, your child’s officials are likely going to miss calls — sometimes many calls! Youth sports are often messy, but that’s where solid adult leadership can intervene and promote pro-social behaviors and positive role modelling.
- Step off the gas. Pushing kids too hard will only burn them out from sports, so make it a point to regularly gauge how much time and effort you are expecting your child to devote to his or her sport(s).
- Use sports to help kids feel good again. For many kids these last few years have centered around unusual school scenarios, missed opportunities, looming healthcare dangers, and literally not seeing one faces of their friends because of masks. Youth sports can help kids rebound from all of these unique circumstances by allowing them to once again smile, laugh, and bond with teammates — things that many kids have been unable to do for quite some time.
While we don’t know what the future holds when it comes to the pandemic and additional changes we may still need to make, for now we can do all that we can to help kids use youth sports as a respite from the stress they have experienced in recent years. Promote positive energy, cheer kids as they do their best, and model appropriate adult behavior so kids can use us as healthy role models. Use the tips above as a reminder of the importance of youth sports as they not only help with healthy human development, but also how youth sports can serve as a healthy escape from these unusual times.