Ahhh…youth sports. For parents, those two words can spark a host of feelings. Love of little soccer players whose shorts and shin guards cover their whole leg, worry about expenses and how to juggle the extra time commitments, and of course, excitement. Like faithful Dallas Cowboy fans, everyone begins every season with confidence that this is their year. Unfortunately, once the season begins, those good feelings are often replaced with yelling, fighting, and anger. In fact, YouTube is flooded with videos of youth sporting events where people are behaving badly. And that’s just the adults.
The YouTube videos show the worst in adult behavior, but even well-intentioned parents can interfere with their child’s ability to relax and to perform at their best. Most experts say we are facing a youth sports crisis, partially because it has grown into a big business with high-pressured, expensive clubs teams. Because of this, young athletes are feeling an unprecedented level of stress and anxiety. It doesn’t have to be this way. Parents can make purposeful decisions to promote a fun environment that gives kids the space necessary for them to grow into amazing adults.
To avoid being the next YouTube viral video, follow these simple tips:
- Zoom-In on 3 Core Values: Identify the top three values or character traits that are most important to your family. Turn these values/traits into a mission statement that can serve as a guide for all sports-related decisions and conversations. Example: If perseverance is a top-three value, then tell your young athlete, “I love how you kept trying even when it got tough,” or on social media, say “They lost the game, but I’m proud of how they worked hard the entire time.”
- Really Listen to Your Child: Why this sport or this team? What are their hopes for the season? What can I do to help you? What do you not want me to do? Then, most importantly, respect their answers by following through with their requests. I knew a parent who didn’t go to their son’s big game because the parent’s presence made the athlete too nervous.
- Help Your Kids Set Attainable Goals: All athletes want to win. However, a lot of factors go into winning, many of which are out of your child’s control. Instead, encourage your kids to develop personal, skill-focused goals. For example, a young basketball player may strive to keep their head up while dribbling, to not rush their shots, and to stay calm.
- Practice Mindful Parenting: The term mindfulness may evoke an image of a Buddhist monk sitting perfectly still, but a mindfulness practice can benefit sports parents. Mindful parents put their phones away and focus on the present moment. They’re able to recognize when their body grows tense with anger and they can choose how to react. Mindfulness makes it easier to keep things in perspective by realizing their role in their child’s sports journey is to provide snacks, to give rides, and to take super cute pictures.
- Repeat These Words: Mistakes Will Be Made, Games Will Be Lost. Say it again. And again. Keep saying these words until this message is ingrained in everything you do. Kids need to be able to roll with disappointments. They need a “we’ll get ‘em next time” attitude. They need to view setbacks as opportunities for growth. Kids learn these skills by watching their parents. If parents yell every time something goes wrong, kids will too. If parents blame the officials or the other team, kids will too. Plus, that type of behavior embarrasses your kids and guarantees your spot on YouTube (and not in a good way). So remember: Mistakes Will Be Made, Games Will Be Lost, But Good Character Wins Every time.