Being a sports parent is tough, especially when it comes to parenting youth athletes. It’s a constant balancing act between pushing your children to greatness while letting them have fun at the same time. You want them to become leaders for their teammates while keeping the weight of the season off of their shoulders so they can enjoy their time as youth athletes. When my kids were going through sports as youth athletes, I constantly felt like I was doing it all wrong. One minute I felt like I was propping them up for success and another I felt like I was setting them up for failure. It took me a long time to realize that no sports parent is perfect and all sports parents just want their kids to be successful, grow and have fun. That is all I truly wanted for my young athletes.
Before one of my children’s last collegiate level soccer games, we reflected on her time as an athlete and she told me some of her fondest memories. She also told me all of the things she loved and that I did right as a sports parent when she was just a youth athlete. A lot of these things that she told me, I thought I was doing wrong or not doing well enough. That is why I want to share with you these 4 things that most sports parents do that their children love, even when we think we are doing them wrong.
This one is simple. Show up! I rarely missed a game – no matter what age or level my children were, I made it to (almost) every game. My daughter had told me that even though she may have said she didn’t want me there or was angry after a tough loss, she always felt a rush of excitement and pride when she saw me on the sidelines cheering her on.
Win or Lose, Good or Bad…Cheer Them On
There are always going to be amazing moments or great wins, and bad moments or tough losses throughout the career of a youth athlete. I always thought that when the bad plays occurred or the team was down, my athletes wouldn’t want to hear me yelling “You are doing great, keep fighting”. Actually, my children would sometimes say after games, “Why do you yell ‘you are doing great’ when the team is losing? We were losing – that means we weren’t doing great”. Despite the questions, I would still be there, yelling no matter the outcome of the game or the execution of the play. Now, my children are so happy I did because it taught them that no matter what is going on in the game, there is always something positive to reflect on and room to improve.
Tell Them You Love to Watch Them Play
“Why do you come to all of our practices and games mom”? This was a question I used to get a lot when my kids first started to become involved in youth sports. My answer was ALWAYS the same, “I love watching you play”. Right as I would say it, I would watch the smile light up across their faces. I would tell them this after games, before practices and when I thought they could use a little encouragement or motivation. One of the best things my daughter remembers is hearing this from me. As we were sitting reflecting on her sports career she said, “Sometimes I didn’t like going to practice or games but I did because I loved that you loved watching me”.
It’s OKAY to Push Them
This was one of the hardest thing for me to balance as a youth sports parent. I wanted to push them so they could reach their full potential but I didn’t want to push them so hard they wouldn’t enjoy the sport. There were times when my kids wanted to go to a friend’s house instead of soccer practice or just didn’t want to go and stay home. Sometimes, I gave in and let them take a break for the day while other times I reinforced the fact that they made a commitment to the team and couldn’t miss a game. Sometimes when I made them go, I thought my kids hated me. Now, I realize it was the best thing for them. My daughter told me she wouldn’t have made it through four years of college soccer had I not taught them the importance of perseverance, commitment and sacrifice.
Looking back, there are still things I would have changed when my children were youth athletes. I thought I had to be the perfect sports parent so that my kids could be the perfect athletes. Now, I know that you don’t need to be a perfect sports parent and your kids don’t need to be perfect athletes! My children both were not perfect athletes and they still worked their way to college teams. The most important thing about being a sports parent is to show up, support them and tell them how much you love watching them – the rest will come.
~A SI Play Sports Parent