Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to be a great sports parent

Youth sports remain a great place for children to learn life skills such as goal setting, dealing with frustration, discipline, and teamwork. But that doesn't mean they will have a positive experience.

How to be a great sports parent

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Youth sports remain a great place for children to learn life skills such as goal setting, dealing with frustration, discipline, and teamwork. But just because we throw a uniform on a child does not guarantee that he or she will have a positive youth sports experience. (Photo: istockphoto)
Youth sports remain a great place for children to learn life skills such as goal setting, dealing with frustration, discipline, and teamwork. But just because we throw a uniform on a child does not guarantee that he or she will have a positive youth sports experience. (Photo: istockphoto)

For many parents, the Spring sports seasons for their children are either in full swing or winding down.   For youth sport participants, ages 6 to 18, this can be the time of year for great joy or disappointment. 

As sports parents, how can we best help our children to navigate the highs and lows of sports? It was with this in mind that I wrote 101 Ways To Be A Terrific Sports Parent.

Sports competition in 2013 is different than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Today’s youth sports landscape is a ‘good news/bad news’ scenario. On the one hand, there are approximately 40 million children involved in organized youth sports in America, more than ever before. On the other hand, approximately 30% of kids age 13 to 17 are dropping out of youth sports, primarily because they are not having fun. 

The good news is more girls are now involved in youth sports than ever before. In 1971, approximately 1 in 27 high school girls played high school sports. In 2013, approximately 1 in 3 high school girls are involved in youth sports. The bad news is that more girls than boys age 13 to 17 are dropping out of youth sports, also primarily because they are not having fun.

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As parents, what can we do to help increase the chances that our children are more likely to get the positive experiences from youth sports, as well as to continue their involvement in playing sports?

In my opinion, step 1 is for each parent to be aware of his/her own attitudes about winning, losing, success, failure, and competition. I have asked hundreds of youth sports parents, “What is your earliest competitive memory?” What is striking to me is that almost every parent has an early competitive memory, most often between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. Half of their memories tend to be positive (example: winning a race), and half tend to be negative (example: being the last one picked).

Why is this important?  Oftentimes, these thoughts and feelings can come to the surface when you are watching your son or daughter in a competitive situation. What “buttons get pushed” within a parent when they see their son/daughter up at the plate with the bases loaded, making a mistake on the field, sitting on the bench, or listening to constructive criticism from a coach? As parents, understanding our own feelings and thoughts when we see our kids in competitive situations is the first step towards being able to control these feelings, and responding to our children in a way that is most helpful to them.

Youth sports remain a great place for children to learn life skills such as goal setting, dealing with frustration, discipline, and teamwork. But just because we throw a uniform on a child does not guarantee that he or she will have a positive youth sports experience. 

Even though competition in our country is different than it used to be, parents still remain the most important influence on whether a child learns the best life skills from sports. So the next time you see your child in a competitive situation take a deep breath, count to 10, and try to understand what your feelings and thoughts are at that moment. Then remind yourself, it’s not about me, and ask yourself, “What can I do now that would be most helpful to my son or daughter?”  

By doing this, parents will be more likely to act in ways that are most helpful for their children, and act in ways that are less about their own needs. 

 


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.

Director of The Center For Sport Psychology; Sports Psychology Consultant for 76ers & Flyers
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