As most of you know, my kids are big fans of soccer. In fact, they love it so much that they choose to play soccer over all other sports. I have a strict policy against over scheduling ourselves so I am okay with their dedication to the sport. However, I know that many of you are not soccer moms or have kids that enjoy multiple (or other) youth sports. So I’ve invited writers to share their experience and tips. We’re kicking of this new sports mom series with some insight from Sara Robinson, who has extensive training and experience working with young athletes. Her tips for sport parents are a reminder to all of us. — Herchel
5 Important Things Great Sport Parents Know to be True
I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Mental Skills Coach for a decade. You might be wondering what that actually is. Well, I basically help athletes with the mental side of sport. I don’t train them physically, but instead, mentally.
I help young athletes develop more confidence, learn how to improve focus, handle the stress that competition (and practice) can bring, and even help them work better as a team and improve communication with those involved in sport.
Having worked with athletes age 18 and under for a very long time, I wanted to pass on some tips for new (or existing) sports parents. You might already be doing some of these, and if you’re not, that’s okay. I want to encourage you to look at these ideas to help your child not only now, but in the future as well.
- Remember that sports are about having fun. In the beginning, kids often join to have fun, and they want to continue when they’re having fun. As kids get older, and sport often becomes more competitive, there is a natural shift to more work and less fun. While I understand that, it’s also important for us to remember that if our child or teen isn’t having fun, they likely will not want to continue. Listen, practices can be hard, and losses will happen: this is all part of sport. But- you need to make sure that there is enjoyment as well. Maybe that’s off the field with team socializing or a fundraising event (fun actually in the word!), but make sure that your athletes are enjoying their time. Otherwise, they may not stick with it.
- Praise effort, not winning. There is so much that athletes (and parents) cannot control in sport. Winning is one of those. Yes, if athletes train hard, listen, are motivated, and work together (if it’s a team sport), then there’s a chance of winning. But, there’s also a chance that their opponent does all of those same things and has a better day. We cannot control wins and losses but we can control our effort. So give your child positive feedback about the amount of effort they gave, how hard you saw them hustle, and even how you’ve seen improvement. The outcome can be acknowledged, but make it secondary to praise for effort.
- Don’t play the comparison game. Your athletes already know who’s the fastest on the team, or that their teammate gets higher scores than they do. They don’t need you to point that out. What they will benefit from is hearing about their own strengths, and to be reminded about what makes them a great player. Coaches often point out areas athletes need to improve, and kids and teens are well-aware of when they don’t measure up. So, as parents, be the ones to help highlight the positives and strengths. This helps to build confidence. You can certainly talk about areas that your child can work on, but try not to compare to others while you do that, because again, your child can only control their own effort and skills, not anyone else’s on the team.
- Help create intrinsic motivation. There are two general types of motivation: intrinsic (doing something for internal reasons such as enjoyment or the love of learning), or extrinsic (doing something for external reasons such as rewards or praise you receive). Most of us are motivated by both types; there is nothing wrong with this. However, research shows that when individuals have greater intrinsic motivation, they’re more likely to persevere in the face of adversity. Isn’t that what sport is often about? So, if you want your child to not only be motivated, but to stick with the hard times, try to motivate them by showing how they’ve grown, changed, the effort they’ve given and more. Yes, this is still external praise, but it’s helping to highlight intrinsic factors. You can also help improve intrinsic motivation through extrinsic rewards. For example, if they receive a trophy or medal, talk about the reasons why they earned that such as their hard work, their improvement in speed, or how their passion really pushed them that day.
- Reframe the idea of “quitting.” Listen- pretty much everyone leaves sport at some point or other. Hopefully by using some of the ideas above you help create an enjoyable situation that your child wants to stay in for a while. Regardless, your child may want to stop participating at some point. I want to encourage you to stay away from the word “quitting.” We know this has a negative connotation: Your child is giving up, leaving a commitment, and it’s not seen positively. Instead, your child may be making a choice to leave their sport. If you have conversations about deciding to leave or stay versus quitting or not, then these types of conversations may feel better to everyone involved. As a parent, you can certainly request that your child remains though the season as they’ve committed, but if they want to leave at the end of the season, then that’s their choice. And, in that time, you can possibly see about resolving the issues that are making them feel like they do want to leave the sport. Maybe they would continue with a different coach, an improved schedule, the ability to better manage stress, or perhaps it’s time for a bigger change.” If you set your child up to believe they’re quitting or “a quitter,” then they may leave with a sour taste in their mouth and less motivation moving forward.
Sports can be fantastic for many reasons for athletes and their families. As parents, we play a big role in how our children experience this important part of life. Though we won’t always get it right, I want to encourage you to try out these ideas, and share them with anyone you think would benefit!
You might also like: 30 Super Quick Sports Night Meals
Sara Robinson, M.A. has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. She has worked as a Mental Skills Coach with youth athletes around the country for over a decade. You can learn more about her work at http://www.trainingthemind.com/. She also works as a freelance writer and helps moms become more mentally skilled and create more balance at Get Mom Balanced.