I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us are not professional athletes. You may be an amazing weekend warrior or have competitive proficiency in an athletic area, but if you are reading this you are probably a parent, or a coach, first, and an athlete second…or even 5th. Even if you are a pro athlete, right this minute, you may or may not want the same for your child. We often lose sight of our original intentions for putting our kids into sports as parents. If you ask around, most parents would list similar reasons for signing kids up for sports: we want them to be active, healthy, social, physically fit, have a positive outlook, learn to work hard, deal with adversity…etc., etc. Then many of us inadvertently sabotage the whole thing. We role model behaviors that aren’t really supportive. We often don’t allow the sport to run it’s natural course. We micro manage and helicopter parent and try out a million different things to find the best fit for our kids. All with great intentions. I am guilty of this as a parent. I understand it as both a parent and a coach. And I regularly get to be on the receiving end of parents doing all these things, as a coach.
Is all this, in the end, what we intended? Could it cause more damage in the long run than good? Are we inevitably undermining our children to the point that they will grow up wanting nothing to do with sports, fitness, and the “healthy lifestyle” we are trying to achieve for them?
David Benzel, founder of Growing Champions for Life, in a newsletter, recently discussed “Reacting to your child’s errors”. He compares typical negative parenting reactions to kids in sports vs. positive practices. He says parents should avoid the 3 C’s;
1. Dont’ Criticize. Don’t find fault in your child, or their performance . Don’t be judgmental about the coach, teammates, the referee, etc.
2. Don’t Complain. Don’t express your dissatisfaction or annoyance about your child’s behavior or performance, or pick on any aspect of the sport.
3. Don’t Condemn. Don’t express your disapproval. This is a tough one because kids are pretty in tune to our feelings as adults. They can misinterpret our best intentions, so they will definitely sense if you feel they are unworthy.
All of these things can backfire, leaving your child with a sense of resentment for you and the sport.
Instead, David Benzel suggests the 3 E’s;
1. Encourage with affirmations. Give positive emotional support and encouragement. Keep in mind that it’s important to praise character, good values, and strong social skills. Leave the skill coaching to the coach.
2. Educate with good questions. Create an open discussion and teach your child to think things through and problem solve. Asking good questions of both yourself and your child will help everyone get into a constructive problem solving mode.
3. Enjoy by participating. Role model both a healthy physical lifestyle but also a positive mental outlook. Your child will “do as you do” way more than “do as you say”.
Look around to grown kids and their families and see what their family activities looked like throughout their formative years. All the active young adults I know came from active, healthy families that participated together. That didn’t necessarily mean they all did the same sport. But they all did SOMETHING. And, probably just as important, they showed up to support each other. They cheered from the sidelines and acted like a family of fans. If you ask any of them about it, the common response is “that’s just what we do”. Healthy living is ingrained in your families culture, or it’s not.