Sports Parenting – Part 1

**This is the first of a series of posts that will focus on parenting in high school athletics; in fact, I’m going to use all of my July posts to focus on this topic.  There are three quick disclaimers that are needed prior to this series of posts:
–  If you’ve read my blog several times before, you know that I believe strongly in much of the current batch of research and discussion from Dr. Tim Elmore and his organization, Growing Leaders (find his blog here).
–  My opinions are research and experience based – not arbitrary or superficial – but they are my opinions.  I don’t (and won’t) claim to be a parenting expert, but I’ve done a lot of research regarding the benefits of any experience in high school athletics, both good and bad.
–  I promise that not all of the posts will be about how those mean ol’ parents are ruining kids’ sports.  I will also give some perspective and understanding from the parents’ point-of-view as well.

That said, here we go!

I admit to checking Facebook more often than I probably should.  There are plenty of things I find informational/amusing/whatever throughout the course of the day, but there’s one forward that always seems to be circulating that drives me bonkers.  (Warning: I’m probably about to offend some people.) Every so often, I’ll see a status that says something similar to this: “Share/Like this status if your kids are your whole life!”  In a nutshell, that’s the attitude that is causing problems in high school athletics (and education, in general) now.  Personally, I love the heck out of my kids, but they aren’t my entire life.  Rather than showing/teaching them that I’m at their constant beck and call, they’re going to learn that I put an appropriate amount of focus on other important adult stuff: being good at my job, spending time with my hobbies/interests, etc.  What I hope they are able to figure out is that nobody’s entire world circles around them.  They are very small pieces in a very large world, and they’ll need to work to find their niche in the adult world.

In recent culture, there is a belief that we as parents are obligated to do anything and everything for our kids.  What gets lost in the shuffle is that letting our kids fail now is the best way to allow them to succeed in the future, especially when they are allowed to fail in a controlled environment.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you ignore your kids, and I’m certainly not advocating that you allow them to be placed in an unsafe situation.  However, I think that we need to reassess what is safe and unsafe.  I’ve said before that youth sports and activities are a GREAT venue in which to learn failure…as long as we allow kids to actually fail.  This blog post came across my Facebook timeline not too long ago, and I immediately shared it.  I’ve watched my now six year old climb to places on park equipment that I knew he would struggle to get out/off of, and I’ve let him figure it out on his own.  I’ve sat and watched him fall down more times than I should probably admit, and he’s been bruised/cut/scraped/scared plenty of times (no broken bones, yet!).  Because of that, he’s actually really good about taking calculated risks already.  Despite the fact that he’ll crawl on almost every piece of playground equipment without hesitation, he’s kind of scared of heights…which is, in part, because he’s learned that falling hurts.  Had I helped him across every bridge/monkey bar/etc, he wouldn’t have learned that it hurts to fall.

Side note – the related lesson I remember most vividly from my own childhood is that of the hot iron.  Mom warned me multiple times to not touch it because it’s really hot, but the lesson wasn’t learned until I touched the dang thing.  She was right; it’s really hot.

I’ve strayed a little bit from my topic, but my point is the same: It’s ok if you aren’t fully protecting your kids from harm/failure; just like it’s ok for your kids to know that they aren’t your whole life.  I will often play with my boys at the park or at home, but not always.  There are times that they ask me to play with them when I choose to either have an adult conversation with someone, work on a project, or just sit in a chair and read a book.  In those times, they learn to entertain themselves.  There are times that we go to restaurants that I know they won’t like.  In those times, they learn to find something on the menu that they either might like or that might be new to them, and they learn how to behave in various social settings (meaning the level of manners required at a nicer sit-down restaurant as opposed to that of the play land in a burger joint).  I could list numerous other examples, but you get the idea.

So, we need a takeaway; how does this relate to parenting a sports kid?  Here are some suggestions:
–  (For young kids that need a ride to/from practice requiring you to stay at practice) Bring a book, a friend to chat with, your phone, or whatever.  You don’t need to diligently watch every second of your kid’s practice.  Once your kid knows you aren’t watching him/her for every second, he/she is far more likely to focus on the practice than your reaction to his/her performance.
–  (For older kids, like high school age, that have busing to games) Skip some away games.  It’s ok to have something else to do on a Tuesday night than spend a couple hours in a car and a couple more in a gym, and it’s ok for your kid to know that you have other things to do.  I’ve talked to multiple parents who tell me with great pride about how they never missed any of their kid’s games.  Great, but what if that time was used to complete projects at home, and that money for gas/food had been set aside into an account to be used on an actual family vacation?  I’ll bet your kid would be fine with that.
–  When your kid isn’t good enough to make a certain team or play a certain position, provide him/her moral support, but let him/her deal with it.  If you try to “fix” it, your kid is just going to learn that you’ll jump to fix any problem for him/her.  Rather than focusing on whatever perceived injustice you think just happened, work with your kid on goal setting and an improvement strategy to meet those goals.

That’s probably enough suggestions to start with.  Again, I get that it’s much easier said than done, and I understand some of the obstacles parents face in executing a plan like that (which, again, I promise I will write about later this month!).  At some point, however, we’ve got to allow our kids to grow up knowing both that they have to and that they are able to fend for themselves in an adult world.  For more on my thoughts about letting kids fail, check out this post.

In his book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Dr. Tim Elmore recognizes eight different damaging parenting styles.  In next week’s post, we’ll look at a couple of those as they relate specifically to youth athletics.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions for a post?  Send me an email, or comment to this post!

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