Is there anything better than watching your child run or skate around with a smile on their face? Kids will tell you the number one reason for playing a sport is fun. Seeing your child find enjoyment while playing sports is extremely rewarding for parents. However, would it surprise you to know 70% of youth athletes quit playing by the age of 14? This is an alarming number of athletes quitting far too early. Can anything be done about it?
Although the high dropout rate for youth athletes is cause for concern, the problem can be fixed. And it starts at home. Parents play a vital role in the enjoyment a child receives through sport. Athletes who come from great sport parents are far more likely have more fun, success, and longer playing days. The great part of this is being a great sports parent does require talent. You don’t have to be a natural ex-pro athlete to be a great sports parent, you just have to follow these five guidelines.
First, show up and cheer. Your child loves your presence. Whether they tell you it or not, they check the stands to make sure you are there. Your presence provides a security blanket and allows them to go out and perform their best. While at the games, cheer loudly, but not just for your child. Cheer for the whole team. Cheer for all the kids, all the time. Be the example of team spirit and enthusiasm you’d like your child to have. In doing this, you’ll help create an environment which is fun, positive, and rewarding for all players, parents, and coaches involved.
Secondly, root for the first name. The number one problem in youth sports is adult insecurity. The insecurity of adults causes yelling, screaming, and demeaning behavior at youth games. Mainly, parents want their child’s performance to reflect well upon the family name. Don’t be that parent. It’s not your time; you’re playing days are over. It’s your child’s team; it’s their dream now. Don’t be the parent that forces the legacy of a last name upon your child. Cheer for Tommy or Julie. Attending your child’s games is not for you to be the star you weren’t in high school. Sure, make friends and be sociable, but it’s not a popularity contest. Your child’s value and identity should not come from a stat line. They are not their performance. Love their attitude and effort, and if it’s poor, correct it. Bottom line, love and support the first name, not a false legacy of the last one.
Thirdly, teach them their true competition. The ultimate competition does not sit on the opposing bench. It’s what you see staring back at you while looking into the mirror. True competition is within. Why do we play sports? Because they are the ultimate microcosm of life. Sports teach life and leadership skills. If our children learn to compete against themselves rather than an opponent, they are on a path towards real greatness. As parents we should help our children strive to compete against their personal bests. It’s hard for young kids and early teens to realize the value of self-improvement. Wins on the scoreboard only last so long. However, winning within will create a lifetime of success.
Fourthly, be a role model. Our children learn how to act by observing how we act. If we want our athletes to have self-control, integrity, team spirit, and sportsmanship we must model it for them. Sports provide conflict and your behavior in the stands will teach your child how to handle it. When there’s a bad call made, will you yell, scream, and point at the official? Or will you remain calm and poised while moving on to the next play? It’s vital for parents to remain calm during emotional situations. Kids learn more from observation than verbal instructions. You should also model how to treat others. Your child watches how you treat (and cheer for) all athletes and parents, regardless of the skill level. Model how you want your child to act.
Lastly, help them fail. This sounds backward, right? But it couldn’t be truer. Another great aspect of sport is countless opportunities to overcome failure. The problem with many athletes, parents, and people in general is the fear of failure. The greatest hitters in baseball history failed 7 out of 10 times. Michael Jordan missed more game winning shots than he made. Many NHL hall of famers never won the Stanley Cup. The common theme amongst the greats in athletics, and within any field, is they don’t see failure as failure. They see it as being one step closer to achieving their goals. A great sport parent teaches their child to fail forward. Focus on the lessons which can be learned from failure rather than the result. This is a growth mindset and you’d be doing your child a huge favor by instilling it in them.
Burnout and unacceptable behavior are two major problems facing youth sports today. Although these problems seem to only be rising there is something you can do about it. You can be the example. You can be the Great Sports Parent. All you have to do is follow the five steps outlined in this article and you’ll be doing your part to make youth sports fun and rewarding.
Be a role model. Be the parent your child needs you to be.
Dr. Greg Uchacz