The pitfalls we make parenting our young athletes
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
As a parent to 3 children, I have made so many mistakes when it comes to each of them playing sports. There's a good chance I will likely make more as they grow up, they're only 5, 9, and 11. As a Certified Mental Performance Consultant with a Ph.D. in Sport & Exercise Psychology I often battle between my maternal instinct to protect my kids and what I know research says about how to help kids. First of all, I firmly believe that sport and physical activity is essential for children. I have a rule that my kids have to play a sport during each season. They started around age 3, but we only have them in recreational leagues, no travel, or highly competitive leagues. I do not agree with early sport specialization so they have played soccer, basketball, flag football, baseball, and gymnastics. We are very lucky to have access to a youth sports program that offers a variety at a decent cost per child. They choose the sport, but the requirement is that they join a team, attend practices and games and finish the season. My goal with that rule is that they will be physically active, learn the fundamentals of the sport, learn how to take instruction from another authority figure, learn how to play with their teammates, and maybe most important - learn how to deal with adversity. Sport is often full of adversity. The coach doesn't play them much, they struggle learning the skills, the team loses, kids make big mistakes. The list goes on and on. These are experiences that I believe contribute to the resiliency of my kids. The reality is my husband and I can't protect them forever. We have to allow them to struggle or even fall and work to pull themselves back up. The sport environment provides a large amount of opportunities for kids to practice dealing with challenges. One of the mistakes I have made, and that I witness countless parents make, is rescuing our children during these challenges. We as parents don't want our children to hurt. So we run to their rescue to prevent the pain and discomfort. The coach doesn't play the kid - the parent swoops in and talks to the coach. The refs made some questionable calls - the parent swoops in, yells as the ref and tells the kid "don't worry about it, he made the mistake." The kid struggles to develop skill with the sport - the parent tells the kid "maybe basketball just isn't your sport."
Fellow parents, here's the thing: Life will hand us countless challenges that are similar to all of these experiences. Our boss may not choose us to head up a project even though we know we are more capable. Someone runs a red light and hits our car, totaling it. We want badly to have some job but we just can't seem to learn the skills quickly. Each of these life scenarios has direct correlation with the challenges we experience in sport. The more we as parents coach our kids to handle the challenges, the more confident our children will be that he/she can not only operate in the sport world, but more importantly, handle the adversity we as adults deal with every day. I remind myself often, especially when the desire to protect my children gets big, that allowing them to learn how to handle small challenges now will prepare them for handling larger challenges in the future. Note that I said small challenges. My oldest son has had some tough challenges with coaches in the past year. While there were some times I discussed the coach's behavior with the director, the majority of the time we discussed his thoughts on how to handle the problem. While it didn't always go his way, he learned he can talk to a coach. He also learned that I have confidence in his ability to work through a problem. That confidence grows with each problem he successfully navigates. He's also translated that confidence to talking with his teachers about challenges.
I choose to help my kids learn how to deal with adversity through sport and then help them see how the same skills can help them in other parts of their life. What ways do you help you kids deal with adversity?