Signing up for expensive traveling teams may not be worth it. (Photo: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images)
When it comes to youth sports, well-meaning parents commit many sins – some of which may surprise you. These sins generally are based on a desire to ensure kids benefit from sports – and excel. It’s the “excel” that gets sports parents in trouble. Once parents take the focus off of having fun and start to concentrate on winning, kids suffer.
Here are six sports parent sins:
– Sports parents believe their kids prefer winning above all else. Truth is, if young athletes have to choose between losing and getting to play the whole game, they choose playing time. Having fun, being with friends, and getting playing time are more important to kids than winning.
– Sports moms and dads believe that time-sucking and expensive travel teams will boost their kids’ success in sports. Parents shell out the money, gas mileage and time to ensure kids participate on these teams — from ages as young as 7. But participating on travel teams by no means ensures that kids will make their high school or college teams. In fact, travel teams often lead to burnout, prompting young athletes to quit before high school.
– Sports parents buy into their kids’ superstitions. These are beliefs, such as “I have to wear a green sock on one foot and eat chocolate eggs for breakfast or I won’t score any goals.” But parents should not run for the bright socks or chocolate-laced breakfasts to support these superstitions. Parents need to focus on what truly builds kids’ confidence: They need to concentrate on their kids’ positive qualities, recall their best moments, and ensure their equipment and uniforms are the proper fit.
– Sports parents remind their young athletes to avoid making the same mistakes they did last game. While parents are trying to be helpful, this is a big no-no! When kids dwell on mistakes, their focus is in the wrong place. It’s hard for them to move on after a mistake. What’s more, kids reminded about mistakes tend to freeze up and avoid taking risks. Instead, they need to act freely and intuitively in order to learn, feel confident, and excel.
– Sports mothers and fathers avoid confronting coaches who yell and humiliate. If parents witness a coach yelling at or humiliating a young athlete, they need to take action. A coach’s negative feedback undermines kids’ confidence and often prompts them to quit sports altogether. Too often, parents don’t want to “rock the boat” by confronting coaches. They don’t want their kids to lose playing time.
– Sports moms and dads focus on outcomes such as scholarships and wins. When parents focus on the score or the win, they’re pressuring their kids in negative ways. In order to enjoy sports, kids need to “play in the moment.” That means concentrating on the next play — not on what will happen at the end of the game. When kids play in the moment, they’re more likely to “get in the zone,” take risks, and feel happy and confident. That’s when they’re more likely to perform well.
The bottom line: It’s easy for adults to fall into sports parent traps — doing what all the other parents are doing, or signing their kids up for expensive and time-consuming athletic activities. Instead, parents should think hard about what makes their kids happy in sports. Generally, positive coaches, a loving and inclusive team culture, and supportive — but not overly involved — parents help boost kids’ confidence and happiness in sports.
Most important, under the right circumstances in youth sports, kids learn to trust their instincts, take risks, have fun and just “go for it,” lessons that can benefit them throughout their lives in and out of sports.
Lisa and Patrick Cohn are co-founders of Kids’ Sports Psychology and Youth Sports Psychology. Patrick has consulted with the Miami Dolphins, NASCAR winners, NHL players, National Motocross champions, and PGA Tour professional golfers. Lisa’s sports parenting articles have appeared in nationwide outlets. Learn more by visiting their blog.