It’s Tough To Be A Sports Parent

I’m pretty excited about an opportunity for parents that I’m hosting online.  In working with John O’Sullivan and some grant money from the City of Grand Forks, we purchased 500 texts of Changing the Game that we’re giving away to interested Grand Forks (and surrounding area) parents in order to participate in an online book study starting in a couple weeks.  More info on that can be found at this link.  If you’re not in the Grand Forks area and want to participate, jump over to the CTG website or Amazon to purchase a book, then just add yourself to the Google Group.  I’m hoping for some good parental dialogue regarding being a youth sports parent in today’s society.

Especially applicable on national signing day, I wanted to share a link from another blog site that I follow: I Love To Watch You Play.  Alex at ILTWYP put together her own Top 10 List to identify over involved youth sports parents; as an added bonus, Alex openly admits that she’s been guilty of many of the items on her own list, as most of have been and still are.  Her thoughts mirror those of Tim Elmore – whose research and comments I follow on a daily basis – when he talks about the dangerous parenting styles he refers to as Groupie Parents and Avatar Parents.

Without pointing fingers or over-generalizing, I think it’s a good list of items to review.  All of us as sports parents have different thoughts, ideas, ideals, and motivations, so that list will solicit different reactions in all of us.  For me personally, I’ve written before that I think the biggest difficulty in sports parenting today is the idea of Keeping Up With The Joneses.  Youth sports parents can be driven by a fear that we’re not doing everything possible to give our kids every advantage we can give them, so we continually try to do more and more – even when we know that the research says we shouldn’t.  The “what if” factor of wanting to see our kids succeed too often trumps our own rational thoughts and knowledge about parenting.

For instance – my 8 year old is pretty sure that he’s going to play for the Washington Capitals some day (with the Chicago Blackhawks as his back-up plan), and my 11 year old is torn between playing for the Denver Broncos or the Carolina Panthers.  The rational side of my brain knows that the odds of either of those happening couldn’t even be described as slim, but in the parent side of my brain resides a creature that I used to tell my English students about: the Butwhatif (also known as the Yeahbut).  Here are typical conversations in my head while watching my kids play:

Rational Mark (watching 11 year old play football): Good grief his running looks goofy.  How does he stay on his feet without falling over?  Awkward.  He sure looks like he enjoys playing football, though; look at the big smile on his face.
The Butwhatif (watching 11 year old play football): But what if we signed him up for personalized agility workouts?  A personal trainer could get his hips, knees, and ankles all lined up, and I bet he’d be running a 4.5 40 by graduation.  If we worked with a nutritionist to get him bulked up, he could probably find a college team to play on.

Rational Mark (watching 8 year old at hockey practice): Why does he keep looking at his feet?  Why does he keep skating in front of his buddies then sliding beside them?  Falling on the ice that many times on purpose can’t be fun, can it?  He’s giggling about it, so this will be what the rest of practice looks like for him.  He sure likes messing around with buddies at practice; look at the big smile on his face.
The Butwhatif (watching 8 year old at hockey practice): But what if you signed him up for power skating sessions all summer long?  I bet having some one-on-one time with a coach all summer long would get him to focus on getting better at practice instead of screwing around all the time.  He’s going to need to be a much better skater in ten years if we’re going to get him to keep playing.

Rational Mark (watching 6 year old play soccer): C’mon, buddy.  Pretend to want to kick the ball once.  No, don’t hug your friends again; kick the ball.  Don’t…yep, I see you waving at me.  Hi.  Hi there.  Go kick the ball.  He sure likes spending time with his friends; look at the big smile on his face.
The Butwhatif (watching 6 year old play soccer): But what if we worked with him individually?  We could keep him focused on working on those skills.  With no distractions, we could probably get him to kick 100 balls in 30 minutes to get him caught back up to those other kids who were actually playing soccer the whole time.

Rational Mark (watching 3 month old sleep): I sure hope he likes sports, too.
The Butwhatif (watching 3 month old sleep): He will, but what if we…

You get the idea.  Every sports parent has had similar thoughts at some point; we’re all in the same boat.  Take a look at Alex’s list and decide how you feel about those items.  Agree?  Disagree?  Applicable?  Not applicable?  It’s easy for us to all pine about how things used to be, but I think it’s almost impossible for youth sports to return to how it was when we grew up.  The best we can do is to be mindful of our own behaviors to allow our kids to get back to playing for fun.

One more plug – join the book study!

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