Parental Priorities in Sports

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“He’d say “Im gonna be like you, dad, you know I’m gonna be like you.”

—Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”

A soccer official in Oklahoma has devised a method to address parental misbehavior at games. According to a writer at TODAY, this official has offered $100 bounty for any video clip of unsportsmanlike behavior from adult fans. He then posts the video on his Facebook page called Offside. It has impacted adult behavior at soccer matches because parents don’t want to see themselves out of control while watching their young athlete play.

Thankfully, in the 90’s there were no smart phones capable of exposing over-the-top behavior at my children’s events. However, I do have one video cassette (that’s a non-digital format for those readers under 50) that recorded my voice at a gymnastics meet. It’s a screech that embarrasses me to this day. It was prompted by a difficult but successful bar routine performed by my young gymnast. Yikes.

As I am often saying, hindsight produces clarity and perspective. Below are what I consider the priorities of parenting a young athlete. When these responsibilities are honored, there are opportunities for enjoyment and success, and yes, fewer regrets.

  1. Oversee the Sports Experience

In the early years you should be the decision-maker, with input from your child of course. You evaluate the fit of the sport for your child, evaluate the character and style of the coach, evaluate the safety of the activity as it relates to weather conditions, potential injury, and social interactions. Your role becomes more subtle as your athlete progresses.

2. Physical Support

A young athlete can become over-scheduled. You should manage how often and how many sports activities are allowable. Assure that there is time for good nutrition, adequate sleep, and pack water and snacks for games, if not already provided. Make sure he has the correct uniform pieces and equipment for practices and games. Arrange transportation when needed. Strike the balance between his sports and other priorities such as academics, family time, and unstructured recreation.

3. Be the Teacher

Model good sportsmanship as well as healthy relationships with coaches and other parents and players. Utilize examples from sports to emphasize character and life lessons. Frame wins and losses with your mature perspective. Be empathetic but maintain enough objectivity to be effective. And most importantly, honor the relationship with your child at all times. Failure to do so can made a negative impact that endures beyond sports.

4. Be the Fan

A young athlete knows when her parents care about her participation in an activity. Attend games, not practices. Be a sounding board, seasoning your feedback with encouragement. Stay in your lane. Don’t coach. Don’t officiate. Don’t make it about your ego. Don’t seek unfair advantages to better position your child. Don’t take over the sports experience, acting as your child’s agent. Do celebrate good effort from not only your athletes, but from other participants. Don’t forget the magic words: “I love watching you play.”

The truth is that your role ebbs as your athlete becomes more proficient in his sport over time. As he becomes more independent in life as well as sports, he should be making more decisions about his experience. However, it is wise to always maintain a watchful eye. It is a balancing act, but with a healthy relationship, and a wise parental perspective, sports are a rewarding experience to be enjoyed, making memories to share throughout a lifetime.

Key Tips

  • Know your responsibilities as a parent of a young athlete.
  • Honor relationships throughout his playing days, especially between you and your child.
  • Be the example that models your values.


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