This past weekend our family had our first sports competition of the new school year. As another season began I found myself reflecting on the recent growth I have experienced in my role as a sports parent. Now before you start picturing me red-faced and yelling – let me clarify. It’s not that I had trouble controlling my own emotions at my children’s sports events. It’s that I often found myself feeling stressed about their performance, success, and the experience they were having as they participated in athletics. In today’s post, I want to share the amazing article that helped me reduce that stress and simplify my role as a sports parent.
The article is titled “What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent – And What Makes a Great One” by Steve Henson. It is a summary of the insights of two longtime coaches, Bruce Brown and Rob Miller. The two men used the information they gathered directly from youth athletes during the three decades they spent working with them and now, through Proactive Coaching LLC, they are devoted to helping adults become the best sports parents they can be. Please click on the link above to read the entire article. It is brief, clear and full of information that will likely impact you and your children positively as you navigate the world of youth sports.
After I read this article, I easily recognized myself as one of the well-meaning parents they mention who inadvertently make their child’s sports experience less than what it could be. While the article is filled with valuable pieces of information, there was one item in particular that really stood out to me. Specifically, they noted that when it comes to your children and their sports, your main focus simply should be to let your child know how much you enjoy watching them play. After some self-reflection, I wasn’t sure I had spent much time communicating that to my children at all so I made changes that have allowed me to better communicate this to them. Before games I simply tell them I love them and I am looking forward to watching them play. After their games I just let them know how much I enjoyed watching them. Embracing this one piece of advice has made my job as a sports mom so much simpler. I don’t need to feel any pressure to offer the pre-game pep talk or tips to enhance their play. And I can let go of my need to share constructive criticism or to uplift and motivate them after a disappointing performance. Knowing my main job is to show up and enjoy watching them is so much less stressful. It’s something that comes naturally and doesn’t require additional effort on my part. And even more than that, it’s something I know I will always be good at.
Making this change has not only benefited me, but has produced noticeable results in my children as well. I have seen a difference in their interactions with me both before and after games. Before, they would sometimes pull away from me or give me a rushed “I know I know” as I was reminding them to use good shooting form in their basketball game or to be “baseball ready” out on the field. Now, I enjoy warm moments with them as they come to me to hug away their nerves or to share their excitement about a big game. After their games, I have noticed a reduction in their frustration and disappointment when they didn’t play well or their team did poorly. Of course, those experiences are still difficult for them, but instead of doing things like sulking or walking slowly behind the rest of us when we go to leave, they will stay closer to me. I can see the comfort they take from knowing I am there with them as their unconditional supporter. By letting them know that my joy comes from simply watching them play, it doesn’t matter the outcome of their performance or the game. I have realized that they don’t need any additional pressure from me as they strive to be the best they can be for themselves.
Brown and Miller’s article showed me that communicating to my children that I love watching them play is one of the greatest things I can do to be a supportive sports parent. If you would like some other tips for positively influencing your child’s athletic experience please see the suggestions below:
- Cheer without giving directions. A simple way to do this is to avoid using verbs. For example, try “great shot” instead of “shoot the ball”.
- Allow your child to create their own definition of success as it relates to their sports experiences. Talk to them about what their goals are for each season. Ask them to explain what they hope to learn and how they hope to feel when playing. Let them know you are excited to be there to watch them play and learn and work towards their goals.
- Remind your child that mistakes and struggles are a part of learning. Let them know they won’t be able to get better at the sports they are playing without taking risks by trying new skills and re-trying things that don’t go well the first time. A great way to do this is by teaching them that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use. See our past post Slow Down and Share Sunday- Mistakes for some ideas of easy ways to talk to your children about this.
- Allow your child to discuss their games with you. Avoid giving unsolicited post-game analysis and wait for them to approach you when they are ready to discuss the game or ask questions about the sport. If you give them the space they need, they will come to you when they’re ready to listen which will allow them to gain much more from the conversation.
- If your child approaches you with negative feelings about their performance try using a “you’re the kind of person who….” statement. For example, if your child says to you “I missed all my shots in my game today,” reply with a statement like, “You did miss all your shots, but you are the kind of person who keeps trying.” Assist them in transitioning from focusing on the negative to seeing the positive.
- Avoid pushing sports on your children. Instead, let them push you to help them. An easy way to do this is to let your child know you would love to rebound for them so they can work on their jump shot. Or communicate that you would be happy to take them to the park and pitch balls to them for hitting practice. Let them know you are available and then wait for them to approach you.
- Finally, don’t lose sight of what is important. Only 1-2% of child athletes go on to get scholarships, but close to 100% of children play sports because they enjoy it and want to have fun.