Maybe you’re raising a future Olympic contender, or maybe your child is the one enthusiastically kicking the soccer ball into the wrong goal. Maybe athleticism is a family trait, and you volunteer to help coach the team, or maybe you always seem to end up in charge of bringing the snacks. Whether they’re destined for greatness or just destined to have a drawer full of shirts with numbers on the back, having kids in sports can be intense for everyone involved.
Playing sports has the potential to help kids develop important skills, like working together, gracefully accepting disappointment, and graciously celebrating success. Sports can help promote self-determination, self-confidence, and a strong mind-body connection. And maybe most importantly, sports can be a lot of fun! At least, they should be a lot of fun. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, we forget that. Check out these 5 tips for making sports a more positive experience for your family!
1. Establish healthy expectations
Being a sports parent is about more than cheering from the sidelines and grimacing your way through piles of stinky laundry. Before any of that, it’s important to set some goals and guidelines with your excited young athlete. Let them know that it doesn’t really matter whether they win or lose, but you do expect them to be present, do their best, and to treat their coaches, teammates, and opponents with respect and kindness.
Remind them that while joining a team is a commitment that should be taken seriously, recreational sports are supposed to be fun, and if they’re NOT fun, it’s ok to have a conversation about ending participation.
2. Leave coaching to the coaches
Even if you’re really knowledgeable about the sport your child plays, try to resist the urge to get too involved. Not only can it be confusing (especially if you and the actual coach aren’t on the same page about everything), but it can also put unnecessary pressure on kids. Watch your kids, cheer for your kids, but don’t stand up in the bleachers and yell strategic suggestions at your kids.
If you ARE the coach (because we know that does happen sometimes), it’s important to create some distinction between that role and your role as parent. During a game or a practice, be the coach and focus on the activity you’re coaching. Any other time, be the parent and focus on everything else that’s going on in your child’s life.
3. Encourage productive communication
Make sure your kids know they can talk to you honestly about their experience with and feelings about the sports they’re playing. If there’s an issue, don’t overreact to it, and don’t dismiss it…just address it, thoroughly and thoughtfully. Support your kids, advocate for your kids, but don’t go into attack mode for your kids until you’ve heard the whole story. If you’re afraid that bringing up problems to the coach could make things awkward for your child, keep in mind that if someone isn’t open to constructive feedback from a genuinely concerned parent, they may not be the best fit for coaching child athletes.
Because we want our children to succeed, and (let’s face it) because there’s usually some level of financial commitment attached to sports (enrollment fees, attire, equipment, etc.), it can be frustrating if they want to stop playing. While quitting probably shouldn’t be the first response, don’t rule it out if you’ve exhausted every other reasonable resolution. If someone asks your kid why they’re playing a sport, the answer shouldn’t be, “Because Mom bought me shin guards, I guess.”
4. Make it about your kids…not about you
As parents, we’re constantly working to find the right balance of encouraging our children to explore their own interests and guiding them toward what we feel are their best interests. Sometimes—intentionally or not—we may even try to vicariously explore our interests through them.
Even though it might not feel like it sometimes (insert mental images of tantrums, eye-rolls, or whatever your sweet angel’s favorite form of shade-throwing is), children typically care what their parents think, sometimes even to the point of pretending to like something they actually dread. If you suspect something like that might be happening, take a step back from your own priorities and reevaluate.
5. Focus on the experience, not the outcome
Sports, by nature, are competitive. Someone wins. Someone loses. For professional athletes, maybe that should matter, since playing sports is their job. Your children, however, are not professional athletes, and even if that’s something the future holds for them (spoiler alert: it’s probably not), right now, the only thing that really matters is that they’re participating in an activity that brings them joy more often than it causes them stress.
Dr. Jim Taylor, an expert in the psychology of sports and parenting, suggests that parents should completely avoid talking about the results of a game. That may be easier said than done, but it’s still a good goal to have and a good example to set.
We hope these tips help you navigate your little ones’ athletic adventures with a bit more ease! We can’t help you with those smelly soccer socks, but we may be able to help you find life insurance that could better protect the owners of said socks. Visit Our Life Covered℠ today to get started with a no-obligation quote!
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