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How to be a better parent for kids in sports

The Basics of Parenting

As parents, we want our children to do well. We want the best for them. And, we want them to excel whenever possible. While we want them to do well in life, these facts are also true when it comes to our kids in sports.

If your child is playing at a competitive level, such as club sports, this desire for your kid to do well is likely magnified. Especially if they are passionate about their sport.

There’s not doubt your desire your kids to excel in life—on and off the court, track, or field. But, you might be wondering how to be a better parent for your kids in sports.

My Experience as a Parent to a Teenage Athlete (and Pre-Teens too)

As I write this, my kids have been playing competitively in club sports for the past six years. In that time, I have had a lot of experiences as a parent on the sidelines. In fact, my oldest daughter’s volleyball team has gone to Nationals championship tournament a total of three times in five years.

I’ll admit, in all those years, not all of my experiences have brought out the best of me. Some of those moments were so bad — I cringe just thinking about them. You can say that a lot of emotions have come up. And, I’d rather not relive most of them. However, I want to help. So, I am sharing some words of wisdom with you here. In others words…

This article is to help you be a better parent for your kids in sports. My desire is that you learn from the important life lesson outlined in this article to help you, help your kids in athletics.

New to Parenting Kids in Sports?

You might be speaking guidance, especially if you are the parent of a new athlete, or your kid just is starting to play more team sports, competitively or as a multi sports athlete. You are likely navigating uncharted territory and are seeking some help to find your bearings.

Let me reassure you—You are in the right place right now!

Lessons Learned to Be a Better Parent to Kids in Sports

The biggest lesson I’ve learned with my daughter playing sports has less to do with her than it has to do with me.

You might think that sounds self-centered. I’m talking about myself instead of my kids on the court or field. However, I assure you, that is not the case. You are entitled to your own opinion. But, I ask that you hear my out before making up your mind.

Being the parent of an athlete can bring up insecurities for the parent. And, depending on the person, it might bring up some major insecurities resulting in bad parent behavior.

Now, here’s the thing: For some people, these insecurities may not be at a conscious level. Meaning, we may not be fully aware of why we feel the way we do (eh, hem. I’m raising my hand for my past-self). Here’s a little more about what I mean:

  • You may have had bad experiences while playing youth sports and your child’s experience is similar to your own which brings up repressed emotions.
    • Maybe you sat on the bench and didn’t play. Your child not getting playing time and sitting on the bench might be a trigger for you.
    • Perhaps you were constantly vying to be recognized for your hard work, but the attention regularly went to someone else. Your child’s experiences can bring up those emotions again.

These situations might be something you recognize on a concious level, but your insecurities may also be unconscious (hopefully this article helps to bring awareness to it).

Either way, you are probably at a loss as to what to do. Or how to cope with your feelings. Especially if you were not taught how to properly manage your emotions growing up.

It’s interesting though. When I started on my journey in sports parenting, I never would have thought my it would bring up my insecurities.

Despite dedicating hours (which now amounts to several months of my life) to the development my daughters’ practice and games, I am learning there is more to all this then I originally anticipated. Let me explain.

Parent Problems – Stressful Moments

Have you felt moments of stress while your child is playing? I’ll throw out some ideas the types of stress that may arise.

  • Your child’s team is competing and the game point is lost because of an error your child made.

Intellectually you know your child is not the only one that made a mistake, but you still struggle and worry what others may say since the missed point was due to your child’s mistake.

  • As much as your child tries, they have a hard time keeping up with their teammates.

Depending on the sport, this may vary. For simplicity sake, think of your child on the track team running the 4×100. Your child runs the second leg of the race, but they are visibly slower than the other three runners on the team. Your child’s 4×100 team just barely missed getting first. You might be worried their teammates may harbor hard feelings toward your child because they were the weak link.

  • As you watch your child play in the game, you can see that they are having a hard time on the field.

Usually they score points, but today they can hardly keep the ball in their possession. You are worried that people are going to blame your child for losing the game because they weren’t playing as well as they normally do.

I get that these situations may not directly apply to everyone. And, there are mannnyyy other situations that may happen. However, the point here is to jog your memory of the stressful moments you’ve had while watching your child compete.

Insecure & Stressed About Winning

While I am referring to stress here, this feeling can be a result of feeling insecure about your child’s abilities or your own history playing sports.

Again, you may not consciously make the connection, at least intitially. However, stressing about your child’s performance on the court is a potential reason as to why you are feeling anxious while your child is competing.

Well, and the fact you want your child’s team to win. Where are all my competitive parents out there? You know what I am talking about!

Jennifer Aniston from Friends raising her hands, smiling, and saying “We Win!”
Winners!

Then again, maybe they don’t feel stress like this while watching your child. If, for some reason, you have not felt this way, let me say, “Good for you!” Genuinely. You likely had a different upbringing than myself (and others) which have allowed you to be confident while sitting on the sidelines watching your child play.

Or, perhaps you used to feel stressed while watching you child play and no longer. Now, your child’s skills have developed enough that you no longer feel insecure about their performance on the field. Either way, keep reading. This may help you to understand why other parents act the way they do.

What’s going on to make you feel this way?

I believe we all have insecurities, such as though outlined above, because we have certain ideals of what we would like for our child (or children).

And, those ideals pertain to your child’s performance during the game or competition.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • We want our child to be able to shine on the field as a star player. Meaning, we want for them to demonstrate all of the hard work they have put into practices and other activities working on improving their skills.
  • If you have any amount of competitiveness in your body, you want your child to do well. And, this may mean you have a desire for our child to do well and shine.

Given the basics of parenthood discussed at the start of the article, we want our children to do well in life — and in sports.

If you’re been skimming this article until now, you need to really focus here so you take in what I am about to say

You may feel stressed or insecure while watching your child play as a result of your own experiences.

  • That said, take a moment to think back to your childhood.
  • Did you play sports? If so, what was your experience like?
  • Were you the star athlete on the team? Or, were you constantly struggling to get attention?
  • Was there always that one person that was better than you and you wanted to be better than them?
  • Or, did you have a rough start when you began playing?

Now, I don’t know what your experiences were like. But, let me share a little bit with you about my own.

My athlete origin story

When I started playing sports, I entered the game later than my peers. Many of my teammates had started playing softball when it was actually t-ball. As a soccer player, my teammates started playing when it was a cluster of kids running up and down the field (imagine hurding cats). Or, perhaps is looked like this…

A young kid trying to kick a soccer ball while struggling to keep his balance on one leg.
When little kids play sports, they get more grace with making mistakes.

Then, there was me. I signed up for softball and soccer when I was 10 or 11 years old. While, many of my teammates were multi sport atheltes who had been playing since they were 4 or 5 years old. This meant, their developmental abilities surpassed mine. I was also the scrawny kid on the field. So, while my skills may have been age appropriate, I had to play catch up.

To make matters worse, my mom didn’t play sports. So, she didn’t really have much support to offer me on how to improve my abilities on the field. Whereas the star players were the ones whose parents coached the team; they probably also played the sport their whole life.

During games, you could say there were noticeable disparities from my abilities to my peers abilities. And, I could tell that my peers would get upset with me when I made a mistake (or at least that was the way I felt out on the field).

As I grew up, I got better. I eventually became team captain. But, it was almost as if I was driven to do well to make up for all of those mistakes I made in my early days of competing.

So, how does this origin story apply to life now?

Back to those parent basics, we want the best for your child. Therefore, with my kids, I don’t want them to suffer the same hardships as me. This has meant I’ve done nearly everything I can to give my kids any advantage possible. All the weekend and summer camps imaginable. Private lessons galore. And, even put one kid in physical therapy to work on her core strength and abilities to support her on the court.

Yet, I could not help but to get stressed during games. Yes, some of that is the result of my competitive spirit. However, it was not the only thing going on. It took a while for me to figure it out, but when I finally made the connection, it was a hard pill to swallow.

Watching my daughter struggle on the court has been difficult to watch because I wanted the best for her, but I was also subconsciously worried about her abilities as a result of my own experiences.

Wait, what?

Because I had a hard time when I started in youth sports, I was reliving those experiences while watching my daughter.

Wow. That was an interesting connection to make.

I have known that parents live vicariously through their children. As in, if they wanted to become professional athletes but did not, they will often focus on getting their child to live those dreams out for them.

Only recently did I make the connection for my situation. My own hardships experienced as a child athlete caused me to feel insecure when my daughter played. I guess this is more similar to the example in the previous paragraph than I originally realized.

So, watching my daughter struggle would cause negative feelings to come out as a result of my personal past experiences.

These feelings can manifest in many different ways. But, the root cause of the problem is all the same. And, whatever the situations it can lead to negative feelings, stress, or insecurities…

And, then the worst happens.

Sadly, those insecurities can also make us do things we later regret. Perhaps we act differently than we normally do. Say things that were better left unsaid. Or harbor unwarranted, ill feelings toward other parents or coaches.

Unfortunately, those things cannot be undone. Well, most of them — you can let go of the ill feelings.

We can, however, learn from these experiences. Which allows us to grow as a parent — and as an individual. The icing on the cake, we model behaviors, qualities, and characteristics we want for our child.

Take Action

So, how do you help yourself to overcome these insecurities as a parent of an athlete? Well, I am still working on answering this myself. But, I’ve got a few places for you to start.

1. Offer compassion.

For yourself, you child, and other players and parents. We are all a work in progress. As much as we’d like to say we have all of our sh*t together, we are all still trying to figure out life. So, offer compassion to yourself and others.

Now, some people may not know much about compassion. And, that is quite alright. I want you to know I literally only learned the word compassion in 2017 or 2018. Which means, as I write this was not that long ago. If this is a new concept to you, I would encourage you to check out Kristin Neff’s website: https://self-compassion.org. There is a plethora of information, tools, and programs to help on your compassion journey; I’d highly encourage you to share the information learned with your kids too.

2. You create your own reality.

If your child is not doing well in the game. Well, this could be because you are focusing on everything your child is doing wrong. And, this can certainly make you feel insecure when you want the best for them. I would encourage you to focus on all the things that went right.

Even if there aren’t major successes, like your child didn’t score a point — that doesn’t diminish the things they did well. Your child may have assisted another player in scoring. Or, they could have improved their game from the last time they played. Acknowledging those small successes will help you to create the reality you would like — your child doing well in sports!

3. Take a break.

It might be easier for you to separate yourself from others during games. This way you are able to focus on your child playing and remind yourself to keep those insecurities in check. If you start to have a moment of insecurity, remember you are human. And, that means you are learning because you are a work in progress. Take a deep breath and defer to the last bullet point – Focus on what your child has done well or how they have grown as a player.

One of the moms of my daughter’s former teammates would take pictures the whole time the kids were playing. This would help to keep her out of the crowd of parents that might trigger negative thoughts, feelings, or emotions. I wish I had taken a page from her playbook sooner!

ON A PERSONAL NOTE

I was recently at a volleyball tournament where a parent of another team was criticizing my daughter. Here’s the thing, it wasn’t even about her playing. The other parent was complaining about the score. While the display didn’t show the most recent point scored, I knew the book accurately reflected the score — because my daughter is a meticulous record keeper. She’s been complimented by USAV officials on her book keeping skills on more than one occassion.

As the parent from the other team was yelling at my daughter and her teammates to fix the score. She was also very nasty in the things she was saying to another parent who was sitting right behind me. Damn, just thinking back to that moment gets me flustered all over again!

While my buttons were pushed by the parent, I did not engage. To preserve my sanity, I exited the room. And, I literally did a few yoga poses outside after do a little power walking. When my blood pressure returned to normal, I walked back into the gym. The parent was still complaining. So, I calmly leaned over and told her, “My daughter is keeping book. I am certain the score is accurate in the book, even if it is not correct on the score board.” Then, I added, ”If you continue to yell at these girls, I will notify the tournament director.”

Sure enough, my daughter told me after the game that the score had been correct in the book. And, that woman didn’t say anything else for the rest of the tournament.

4. Let go of perfect.

Yes, you want your child to do well. But, they are still growing and learning. This means they will make mistakes. And, they will not play perfectly all the time. That is totally fine. When mistakes are made, offer reassurance over criticism. Then defer back to the first intervention listed above by offering compassion.

While this may seem like a short list, I want you to know that these may be easier said than done. So, it will take some time. And, this likely means exercising some self-compassion! However, the simple act of acknowledging why you feel the way you do will help you to make progress.

In Conclusion

Remember, we are all human. That means we make mistakes. Which includes you, your child, other players and parents. Offer hugs, positive words, and love to others when possible. It will make all the difference.

Oh, and remember, it is just a game, they are kids, and they are still learning. For every mistake made, it is a learning opportunity. Which is far more important than doing everything perfectly. And, athletes of all ages make mistakes, event those who at the highest levels such as the Olympics!!

Ultimately, I hope sharing this helps you and your child. And, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing this information, please share.

XOXO Kristi written in green cursive font

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