Youth sports provide a great opportunity for kids to exercise and develop team spirit. Collaborating with others on the field teaches them how to get along with their future college roommates and coworkers.
By some estimates, three out of four children come to hate sports by the time they turn 13.
So, when do sports turn into a negative experience? It happens when the competition gets too intense and it stops being fun.
If you want your kids to benefit from playing sports, you may need to resist the competitive pressures that blur the line between pee wee baseball and the professional leagues. These are some steps you can take yourself and with your children, their schools, and the coaches to keep things fun.
Steps to Take Yourself
1. Avoid living in the past. Parents sometimes get carried away trying to relive their high school football victories through their kids. Let your child have their own adventures.
2. Root for everybody. Establish appropriate boundaries and cheer for all the players. That includes the opposing team.
3. Avoid giving instructions. It’s confusing for children to listen to advice from the stands while their coach is guiding them. Share your recommendations with the TV while you’re watching Sunday football, but leave your kids alone while they’re playing.
4. Save for college. Very few student athletes go on to professional careers. If you’re spending thousands of dollars on training in hopes of a full scholarship, you’re better off opening a college savings account.
Steps to Take with Your Child
1. Be positive. Let your kids know you love them, regardless of whether they score in a game. Congratulate them for developing skills, taking risks, and supporting their team.
2. Encourage diversity. The trend towards early specialization is causing overuse injuries and stress for kids. Encourage your child to sample swimming and lacrosse.
3. Teach responsibility. It’s good for children to understand the importance of keeping commitments. Praise them for getting up early to attend practice.
4. Watch for burnout. Upset stomachs and headaches may be a sign that your child is pushing too hard. Reassure them that it’s okay to drop tennis if their welfare is in question. However, unless the situation is urgent, you may want to stress the importance of finishing the season. You want to avoid teaching your kids that they can quit whenever things get tough.
5. Promote balance. Well-rounded children are usually the happiest and most successful. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for their school work and leisure activities, as well as their sports performance.
Steps to Take with Your Child's School and Coaches
1. Make contact early. If possible, show up for the first meeting between parents and coaches. Become a regular attendee at the games. Forging a personal connection will help if there are any conflicts to address later.
2. Clarify commitments. Get a sense of the coach’s philosophy and how much time your child will be asked to devote to the sport. Do you want them to be traveling every weekend for away games?
3. Volunteer your time. Offer to serve snacks and coordinate schedules. You’ll get to meet other parents and stay informed.
4. Arrange for feedback. Ask your child’s school and coaches how they collect feedback. Find out what communications work best for them. Is it phone calls or texts? Your input will help your children and future athletes enjoy the best sports programs possible.
5. Know when to intervene. Your child will grow more by handling issues for themselves. Still, there may be times when you’ll want to step in to ensure your child is being treated appropriately.
Sports are a great way for kids to get in shape, make friends, learn about teamwork, and feel a sense of accomplishment. Let your children know that they’re winners as long as they try their best!