Raise a champion & they'll win at life!
Somehow over the last few decades America’s kids transitioned from playing with neighborhood children to participating in ultra-organized team regulated sport activities. Not to be out done, parents have had their own transition as well. Today’s parents travel from field to gym with a fashionable folding chair and are expected to wear cleverly slogan filled printed gear boasting about what an undefeated champion their two-year-old gymnast, three-year-old soccer player, or five-year-old T-ball player is. The excitement is contagious and in the current drive through world we live in parents don’t want to miss an opportunity that may connect their child to a hidden talent or passion. That said, sometimes a cheering crowd or a bad call from an official can activate the worst in parents.
Good parenting is effective leadership. Solid leadership is logical, it has consistent rules, clear behavior expectations and tries to see a lesson in every experience. Logic can be left in the minivan when it comes to children and competitive sports. As a mother of six children each having participated in a variety of sports from pre-school through college, from recreational clubs to the U.S. Olympic Team and all that’s in between, I have witnessed the best and sadly the very worst in parents as they watched their kids participate in sports. I have learned there are some basic guidelines that help kids have higher engagement and everyone have a more enjoyable experience.
First, parents should have realistic expectations of the activities their kids are involved in. Preschool sport activities are group play opportunities. As kids grow older recreational sports are often coached by fellow parents that have limited knowledge about athletic conditioning or performance training. Even high school sports are often monitored by teachers or community volunteers. The focus should be on what qualities the activity can bring to the child long term, like good sportsmanship, empathy and leadership instead of the limited skill achievements the sport can bring.
Second, if it’s a passion your child will tell you, moreover they’ll show you. I have yet to meet the Olympic parent who said, “we almost missed his commitment to the track.” Kids who have an elite athletic commitment whether it be a college scholarship, world or Olympic level ability it’s obvious. That kind of drive in a child is unusual and it presents itself. If a child needs to be reminded to practice or notices more of what they are missing rather than what they are doing, it may be a talent without a passion. Parents should remember that just because their child is talented doesn’t mean their child is obligated to pursue that talent. Sadly, it’s the same in reverse that just because a child has unbeatable passion does not guarantee high achievement in the sport. The emphasis must be on the journey and the inadvertent gains the practice brings.
Third, how our kids perform has nothing to do with us. Really. Several of my kids excelled in advanced math and calculus. People assumed I did too. I didn’t. But I admit it was ego serving in the moments when others assumed, I had superior academic skills. The same can be said with athletic achievement.
Lastly, supporting your child in sports is just like supporting your child in all the other things they do. Give your kids their own lane and give them the space and time to create a proud, fist pump moment for you to witness. Engaging in sports can introduce kids to resourceful habits that can raise confidence, discharge stress, and start a life-long love of physical activity and seed a competitive drive. By understanding expectation, letting kids set the pace and giving them the space to improve with support that doesn’t smother, you will raise a champion for life!