Posted May 02, 2019
Having worked with over a million children in our Challenger soccer programs throughout the years, we have witnessed a wide variety of sports parenting behaviors. We frequently see parents who, in their own zealousness to see their child succeed, become so involved in their athletics that they fail to distinguish between their own wants and dreams and those of their child. This micromanaging and intense focus on winning and success results in child athletes who are stressed, afraid to make mistakes, and no longer enjoy playing the sport they once loved.
Here are ten things parents can do to both maintain a healthy perspective and increase your child's chances of finding success and long-term enjoyment in their sport.
1. Model Positive Behaviors
Being a positive role model for your child sounds like it should be easy. However, even the calmest parent can get carried away in the heat of competition, especially within the ultra-competitive team environment created by overzealous club programs. To help combat this we suggest that you maintain awareness of how much you comment on your child's sports game. Make sure that you aren't commenting on every moment, and when you feel the need to say something, make sure it is positive and encouraging. Be sure that you aren't putting down or talking badly about competitors, criticizing teammates or officials, or openly second-guessing the coach. There are enough uninformed critics in the stands hurling insults at kids playing a game, so instead set the example and model your behavior for other parents as much as your own child.
2. Stay in the Now
The increasing pressures on children to be successful in youth sports has programmed parents to be continually looking towards the next level, the next team, the next season, high school, college scholarships, and professional careers! By focusing on the future parents are missing out on the most important game, the one being played today. If parents do not take the time to sit back and enjoy everything that goes along with their child being involved in a youth sports program, they will miss out on some of the most valuable and cherished shared memories their child will have of growing up.
3. Encourage Risk-Taking
All kids should have the opportunity to participate in sports at a level that is equivalent to their ability and level of commitment. All programs should have player development at the heart of their mission. However, higher-level programs demand more from the players and understandably place more value on winning and losing. To achieve success players must inevitably push themselves outside of their comfort zone which means taking risks and making mistakes. Competition is inherently risky, and it takes a strong parent to continue to encourage their child to take risks and not fear failure as they push the bounds of their talents.
4. Help Develop Independence
We frequently witness young athletes trying to live up to often unrealistic parental expectations. For many, the over-investment by their parents in the youth sports environment leads players to believe that their performance and success determine parental happiness and approval. In truth, a high-level player in any sport experiences enough pressure to perform well from their teammates, the coaching staff, and from themselves. They do not need the added pressure of an overzealous parent, even with good intentions! Encouraging a strong and independent self-image for your child is extremely valuable. There’s no escaping the mean comments and difficult situations that will confront a competitive athlete. The sooner your child learns to stand on their own, without their parents to lean on or hide behind, the better.
5. Treat the Coach as an ally, not an Adversary
If you treat the coach as an adversary, how do you think your athlete will treat him or her? You and the coach want the same thing: for your athlete to succeed, though you might see different paths to making that happen. Once you know that the coach values your child not just as an athlete, but as a person, step back and let him or her coach. You won’t agree with every decision, and your child may struggle at times, but instead of saying, "What’s wrong with this?" try to respond with, “What’s good about this?” There is always learning to be had if you look close enough. Working with your coach by keeping him or her informed and respecting boundaries gives your child the best chance of success.
6. Encourage Academics
Overall, a little over 7% of high school athletes (about 1 in 14) will go on to play a varsity sport in college and less than 2% of these athletes (1 in 54) will play at NCAA Division I schools. Further, only 2% of all NCAA student-athletes will go on to play professionally. Clearly, an education is not a backup plan if athletics doesn’t work out: it is the foundation from which your athlete will build a life upon, athletics or not. Always encourage your child to focus on their education as much, if not more than, you encourage them in sports.
7. Just Love Watching Your Kids Play
Sports seasons go by in the blink of an eye, so enjoy every moment. Show your kids that you care by simply saying, "I love watching you play.” It will help you keep a positive mindset and show your kids how much you care. If you have given your best and can say to yourself, “I have done what I can while maintaining sanity, health and the well-being of my family and relationships,” then you are a successful sports parent. Don't compare your family's sports experience to another family. Take a step back and let the athletic journey belong to your child.
8. Maintain Patience
This is an obvious tip and relevant across the entire spectrum of parenting but when it comes to sports, it is vital you not go too hardcore on your child too soon. This may have a negative effect on their initial impression of a brand-new sport. Give them space and time to try the sport in their own way – offering minimal input. This will allow them to develop their own opinion of the sport without being swayed by you.
9. Push Them When Needed
Similarly, for kids to develop to their full potential, it's sometimes necessary for a parent to encourage them on to the next level. Maybe you see them stuck on their wins and you feel they need more. Speak to their coach, speak to your child and offer ideas to improve. Know when to criticize and encourage; building resilience within a child and teenager is a vital life-skill to develop. It boosts their ability to manage adversity and hardship. Kids need to expect criticism, as it is an important building block in improving as an athlete and a learning point for everyone.
It is critical for parents to recognize when constructive criticism is necessary and when it can wait and to understand how to best deliver it. If they just played a bad game and have come off the field in a bad mood or their coach just criticized the whole team, these are times for us as sports parents to focus on the positives from the game instead of piling on with more negatives. It is more effective to have a reflective chat when the adrenaline has worn off. Encouragement comes in many forms – it can be from the sideline of the game; it can be a simple chat in between games informing them of their ability. Overall, encouragement boosts confidence and belief, while criticism creates an ability to adjust and reflect on self-performance.
10. Let Them Try Different Sports
It may take many years and numerous attempts to find your child's real niche, and it may be a sport you were not expecting them to enjoy. But that is okay. It is their life and this is their time to find what they enjoy most. If you had your eyes set on your child playing football and they want to try golf, let them. Giving them ability to try different sports may also set them up better for the real world to become open-minded in their everyday outlook.
Peter Arch is the co-founder of Challenger Sports. Peter grew up in England, played and coached soccer in Oxford and moved to the U.S. in 1988 to join the soccer revolution. He has been actively involved in promoting the sport in the U.S. and helped create the largest youth soccer coaching company in North America. This year, over 200,000 boys and girls will take part in Challenger Sports camps, clinics, tournaments, and tours in over 3,000 communities in the U.S. and Canada. Peter has built an extensive network within all elements of the U.S. soccer industry including, professional and semi-professional leagues, national sanctioning bodies, national coaching organizations, manufacturing, retail, technology, television, print, and new media, and has helped Challenger Sports recruit hundreds of soccer executives and Directors of Coaching, and over 10,000 coaches from Europe, North America, and South America.
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