Empowering Young Athletes

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“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

–A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

This famous quote from Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh in the children’s classic is a key to unlocking potential inside our offspring. We want them to be strong in every way, especially when it comes to belief in their own abilities. Parents are the first in a child’s life to begin the process of empowering their sons and daughters. A parent’s primary responsibility includes oversight in the development of these little helpless humans into independent adult humans.

Youth sports can be a classroom for this endeavor. It requires that parents and other caring adults use wisdom in their approach. A friend sent me an article about a melee that broke out during a 7-year-old baseball game. It was not among the players–apparently they fled the scene–but among the adults who were in attendance. A contested call by the official, himself middle school aged, sparked the rage. That’s an extreme example of misplaced investment by the ones who are supposed to be setting the example of maturity and perspective.

It is befuddling whenever this scene unfolds in its many variations and levels of intensity: criticizing officials, trash talking from adults to young opponents, approaching the coach publicly with a complaint, coaching your kid from the stands, etc. The first question to answer is “Whose sports experience is this?” To me, whatever my child is invested in, I am as well. Pride in your child’s achievement is well placed. Hinging your own happiness on how well they achieve is not.

The relationship between parent and child is to be honored and protected. That foundation makes all the difference as the years go by and the youngster pursues his own interests. The respect between you goes a long way in creating a wise approach to sports endeavors. It is your child’s activity, and although your role is dynamic and evolving, it always involves setting an example of sportsmanship. If your child has the ability to communicate with you without fear of being shamed or belittled, then he/she will be empowered to enhance the experience for you as well. After all, the caring parent’s one desire is to be helpful and effective. Your child can help you do that.

I recall a middle school basketball game when I was “helping coach” from the fan section. I was also “helping officiate,” since I, myself, had played basketball and felt obliged to share my knowledge. After the game, my child said to me: “Mom, it doesn’t help when you yell from the stands. The official even knew you must be my mom.” Another time I drove to track practice to watch my children work out. I thought I was inconspicuous; however, at dinner I was asked to please not do that again. In both instances, I was not offended, but rather convicted. I was also set free to do the things that were effective in making my children’s sports experiences more positive.

Young athletes who are secure in who they are, and in the relationship they have with their parents, have the advantage. That does not automatically occur. The ups and downs of sports include learning to fail and begin again, working to achieve something that is not easy, realizing that success requires commitment and consistency, and that working with others makes the whole process more fun, often more meaningful. Wise parents know this to be true, and subjugate their desires and needs to the young athlete whose activity it is. Their priority is to affect the experience in a positive way so that outcomes are less important, and success is measured in what outlasts the sports activity.

Key Tips:

  • Parents who allow their children to learn the lessons sports has to offer lead them to build genuine confidence.
  • Wise parents enjoy relationships with their children that include mutual respect wherein they learn from their kids by listening.


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