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Kids and Sports: Do's and Don'ts for Youth Sports Parents

Don't become a crazy sports parent - learn how to best support your child

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Updated May 21, 2014

Encouraging your kids to play sports is one of the best ways to help them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. But some parents take that support too far by emphasizing winning rather than developing skills and having fun. The crazy sports parent isn't that uncommon. Here are some tips to make sure you don't become one of them.

The line between encouraging your child and pushing him beyond his abilities can be somewhat easy to cross. Youth sports parents occasionally need to be reminded of some basic "do's and don'ts" to help children become happy, healthy and confident young athletes.

Youth Sports Parent Do's:

  • Encourage your child to try and play any sport he or she enjoys. The biggest motivation for kids to play sports is having fun, and they often drop out because they are no longer finding the activity pleasurable.

  • Support your child's decision not to play a sport if he or she doesn't want to. Pushing a child into sports may lead to conflict, poor motivation and other problems at home.

  • Let your child make mistakes. Doing so is part of learning, and if kids are so afraid of messing up that they quit trying, they unknowingly stop improving.

  • Enjoy what you child does and can do. A parent who is interested and supportive, but not too serious or directive, will allow the child to set her own goals and be accountable for her achievements.

  • Encourage your child to set goals, and measure his progress. A child who plays sports often needs help defining appropriate and realistic goals that stretch him without becoming overwhelming. This is one of the best things a parent or coach can influence. (See: Goal Setting & Motivation.)

  • Remind your child of all the health benefits of playing sports, and encourage her to focus on positive health behaviors.

  • Encourage your child to compete against himself, and use competition as a way to improve his own abilities.

Sports Parents Don'ts:

  • Don't push your goals on your child. Many parents get into trouble by trying to seek out their own identity though their child's success. Remember that your child is a unique person with individual interests and goals, and allow him to define his own goals.

  • Don't look for excuses for losing a game. Many parents think they are helping by finding blame in the weather, equipment, or field. However, this attitude often backfires because kids fail to learn accountability for the outcome. These kids may never learn from their mistakes or try something new because they are quick to blame others for their short-comings.

  • Don't focus on winning -- focus on fully participating. Children who are expected to win are often too anxious to do their best during a game. Additionally, they may lose interest in sports and competition of any kind. Parents who choose not to focus on having fun, developing new skills and doing one's best encourage kids to become resistant and resentful, unsure of themselves and their abilities, and disinterested in trying again.

  • Don't criticize or yell instructions during the game. This only embarrasses your child and adds to the pressure she feels. If your child needs some simple feedback, provide it calmly and clearly in a positive way. Tell her one or two things to do, not a list of things not to do. Kids can only handle a little information at once, so be clear and calm.

Remember that playing sports as a child should be all about growing, developing, having a good time, and learning important social skills. Most kids want to play sports because they enjoy it. If the sport becomes pressure-filled or overly stressful, kids may lose interest or even develop serious coping issues that take a lot of the joy out of being a kid. Parents can help make sure kids stay kids, have fun playing sports and develop new healthy habits with the right balance of encouragement and support.

Also See: Should I Coach My Child?

Sources:

Kay Porter, Ph.D. The Mental Athlete, Human Kinetics, 2003

Weiss, M. R., Fretwell, S. D. (2005). The parent-coach/child-athlete relationship in youth sport: Cordial, contentious, or conundrum? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76 (3), 286-305.

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