One of the more common things I hear at my office are parents who tell me that the only thing they want for their kids who compete in sports is that they “try their best.” For parents who truly mean what they say, the goal is to gain life skills from playing sports — and winning is looked at as a secondary gain, if winning occurs at all. This parenting philosophy provides the child a greater sense of security, confidence, positive encouragement, and unconditional love and support regardless of the results on the playing field.
When parents say “try your best” and that’s all that truly matters, it’s terrific advice. Unfortunately, some parents say “try your best,” but in the very next moment begin talking about potential travel team opportunities, future college athletic scholarships, and various other possibilities if the child plays up to his or her potential. I call this type of encouragement “try your best — but with strings attached.”
The real meaning of “try your best”
When parents tell their kids that the only thing that is important is trying your best, that does not mean try your best, but also make sure you maximize your potential and win all your games or else we’ll be terribly disappointed. When parents are sincere about “try your best,” it means that effort is the only thing that matters, regardless of the results. Unfortunately, kids get a mixed message when they hear that effort is the only goal, but see that their parents are deeply disappointed when they fail.
“Trying your best” means:
- Having a good attitude everyday
- Arriving at practice early and ready to go
- Open and accepting of coach advice
- Being a great teammate
- Doing what is asked of you for the team
- Leading a healthy, clean lifestyle
- Staying eligible by getting good grades in the classroom
- Eating right, getting enough rest, and rehabilitating any injuries that might occur
What “trying your best” does not mean:
- Recognition and rewards are directly tied to performance
- Your best is only good enough if you win
- A missed college athletic scholarship means a wasted youth sport experience
- Prioritizing sports over everything else, including academics
- If you’re not winning, try harder
- Investing heavily (often against the kid’s wishes) in skill coaches, training programs, camps, and clinics all designed to vastly improve athletic abilities
Parents who send kids a mixed message saying that effort is the only thing that matters (when it isn’t) run the risk of causing even greater strife, confusion, and sometimes even premature quitting. If you really mean that trying your best is the ultimate sports parenting goal to place upon your child, then be sure to offer unconditional love, support, and encouragement — regardless of the final score.