Very few people come in contact with sports and do not get emotionally invested. Factor in parental love, and one begins to understand why many sports parents get overly invested. We’ve all seen them on the stands, demanding, coaching, pushing, shouting, gesturing, frustrated and critical. Of course, these parents mean well, but their actions can affect the very children they’re there to support. If done right, supporting your child in sports can provide fodder for your child’s development. Here we have guidelines for what sport is right for your child.
Mills, Butt, Maynard and Harwood conducted research to identify the factors that impact the development of youth academy football players. Participants consisted purely of football coaches. They all agreed that positive parental involvement increases the chances of progressing to a professional level. What’s more, they defined positive parental involvement as ‘providing emotional and tangible support’ and not being ‘over-involved’. While negative parental involvement could appear as the following:
- over-inflating player’s ego
- providing inappropriate coaching advice
- living vicariously through son
- mollycoddling their son
- putting pressure on son
How to be a Good Sports Parent
You can support your child in sport as a parent without overdoing it. As with everything in life, your child needs encouragement to reach their best in sports. The trick is to find a balance that works without overwhelming them. Below are ways to provide support.
- Offer opportunities for them to work outside of practice. Just practicing with the team isn’t always enough. This is especially important if your child has too many weaknesses in their game. Working outside practice hours allows them to concentrate on each problem one at a time at their own pace. The fact that you’ll be there helping them out goes a long way. However, not every child will immediately be receptive to extra practice. At first, just broach the topic, and if your child says no, don’t push it. Give them time and bring it up another day. Try to convince them instead of forcing them.
- Always try to remember why they play. Parents can quickly become addicted to winning because it makes them happy to see their child progress. This can make a parent turn inward, making their child’s participation personal. Winning or losing becomes about how happy or sad it makes them. Children are quick to sense this. They start playing to appease their parents. Over time, it becomes their primary motivation for playing. Children need internal motivation to participate in sports for the long haul. For parents, an effective way to fight that inward gaze is to constantly remind yourself why your child plays sports. Loving your child unconditionally is not only about supporting them, but also accepting them for who they are.
- Watch what you say before and after a game. What you say before and after a game, whether your child wins or loses, matters a great deal. Encourage them to have fun before each match, and reiterate your love for them. After each game, ask if they had fun. Let them know that you love and are proud of them, whether they won or lost. The point is for your child to know that whatever happens in the game, you’ll always be there. Being critical or changing your body language after a loss sends the wrong message.
- Provide positive feedback. Providing positive feedback can help your child know where to improve. However, reserve it for when they’re ready. Hardly does any athlete want to hear what they didn’t do right on the field immediately after losing. In situations like that, simply talk about their efforts on the field. Let them know that you saw them trying—but be specific about it. You might say, “That pass to Phil in the final third after the break was awesome.” Then in the coming days, you can engage your child when they’re ready. Try to be detailed, upbeat, and positive. Watch them and listen for clues that can help you identify a problem they might be facing. Be careful not to transfer your parental anxiety or hangups from your own upbringing to the conversation.
- Make game time a family affair. Nothing communicates support like having the entire family at a game. That’s how to motivate your child in sports. The family’s presence at a game can make your child push themself harder than they’ve ever done. When the whole family can’t be there, you or your spouse can do the job. Your child needs to feel your support all the way.
- Keep an open mind. A survey by Utah State University found that parents are paying an average of $2,292 a year on youth sports. However, as is typical with life, sometimes things don’t work out. Your child may do their best and still not make the team. If this happens, maintain perspective. You, too, will feel disappointed on behalf of your child. No parent wants to see their child not make the team. But you must try to assure them that it doesn’t define them. Let your child know that you’re proud of them for trying. Then encourage them to continue practicing or invest in expert training. That might cost a lot, though.
Here we discuss more for why every child should do sport – even if not sporty.
Final Thoughts in Supporting Your Child in Sport
It’s important for parents to know that their child’s performance isn’t a yardstick for their parenting. That your child isn’t performing well doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent. Neither does their high performance make you a super-parent. You do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your child’s on-field mistakes. What’s important is that they’re trying, and that’s more than enough.