When to Push – and Hold Back – in Youth & Interscholastic Sports
As a sports parent, how do you know when to push your child through challenging situations, and when to pull back? Should you push your daughter to play through pain? Should you pull back on signing your kid up for sports teams when it’s clear that he is no longer having fun playing the sport? These are just a few of the questions I regularly receive from sports parents who are unsure when to push versus when to hold back.
First, it’s important to operationalize the terms I am using for this article. “Pushing” is defined here as encouraging your child through hearty praise and positive reinforcement. “Holding back” is defined as actions designed to slow things down, re-examine situations, and possibly change directions entirely.
When to push…
- Effort. Kids who display effort in sports, even if the results aren’t always there, should be rewarded and encouraged to continue trying their best.
- Sportsmanship. Any time you see a youngster play with integrity, show respect to the opponent and referees, and display role-modeling behaviors it is important to push kids to continue to prioritize sportsmanship when they play.
- Leadership. Sports provide countless leadership opportunities, from helping teammates with focus on the field, making good decisions off the field, and using their identities to make a positive difference in the school and community. Pushing these kinds of behaviors in sports can help kids use the leadership skills they are learning off the field as well, especially in school and their future careers.
- Resiliency. Bouncing back from adversity might be the biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful people, so if you see your child pick him- or herself up after a loss it’s a good idea to encourage and support this behavior.
When to hold back…
- No fun playing. The #1 reason kids play sports is to have fun, so if it becomes clear to you that your child is no longer having fun playing sports it is not advised that you continue to push him or her to play more of that particular sport.
- Injury recovery. Most of us have heard the expression “no pain, no gain,” but when it comes to injury recovery pushing through pain can lead to even bigger long-term problems. In cases of injuries, make it a point to listen to your doctor and trainer and give your child the time needed to make a safe and healthy recovery.
- Communicating with the coach. Watching your child lose out on playing time or appear to be scapegoated by the coach are two examples when parents typically want to rush right in and have it out with the coach. While it is understandable why parents want to protect their kids, in situations like this it is often best that your child (depending on age, of course) attempt to work the problem out with the coach 1-1 (with your support and guidance in the background).
A lot has changed in youth sports over the years, and sports parents today are often challenged when it comes to supporting their child to push through stressful situations, versus pulling back and letting events take their natural course. Of course, there are no easy answers to the complex situations you might find yourself in while involved in youth sports, but by taking time, evaluating options, and supporting your child throughout the youth sport experience should provide for the best, optimal result.