Parenting Young Athletes

Benefits of Sports Participation:

Sports can be very beneficial to the development of young people. Participation in organized athletics can foster social responsibility, academic success, an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle, self-determination, and a sense of belonging. All too often the true purpose of youth participation in athletics is lost in the glamour of winning. The true purpose is to have fun. In addition to having fun, somewhere along the way young athletes might just develop physical competence, learn some important life skills, the value of sportsmanship, and good health practices. In order for young athletes to successfully reap the benefits of participating in organized athletics the environment must be right.

The value and impact of the lessons and concepts a young athlete can acquire from participating in organized sports is limitless. Studies have shown that those who are involved in sports at a young age are more self-reliant, have better work ethic, possess higher social skills, have better life planning skills, are healthier, and get better grades. In order for young athletes to take in all that organized sports have to offer they must be exposed to the right environment; an environment that promotes learning, emphasizes hard work to achieve realistic goals, and one that is positive with an emphasis on development, not on winning. Parents play an essential role in the creation and regulation of this environment.

Parental Role Modeling:

Parents are role models not only for their own children, but also for other children who they come into contact with. Adults are seen as knowledgeable and wise, in addition to being physically intimidating. In a young impressionable person’s eyes adults are a model for how they are to behave, socialize, and carry themselves throughout their own lives. This means that parents have a great deal of control over how their children, and other children, learn and develop. Essentially parents control many of the factors which dictate the environment children grow in. This is especially true in athletics. Parents can make a child’s participation in sports rewarding by creating an entirely beneficial and productive experience, or they can put undue pressure on their children, create a negative environment, which eventually culminates in the child dropping out of sports, and ruins the overall experience. This essentially cheats the child out of a potentially beneficial development opportunity.

Benefits From Positive Parental Role Models:

  • Increased enjoyment from sports
  • Drive to be successful
  • Greater knowledge of the sport for both parent and young athlete
  • Better relationship between young athlete and parent due to increased communication and positive interaction.

Goal Setting:

Parents should participate with their child in setting realistic and attainable goals. These goals should be focused on enjoyment, learning, and participating, not winning. With young children especially, losing can be interpreted as something negative about themselves personally. The distinction between themselves as an individual and their team’s success, which is entirely irrelevant to their person, is not clear. When children are put into situations where there is pressure to win, their development can be effected. Often times these children who have not felt successful, will actually grow to avoid, and even fear, success because of the pressures they have learned to associate with it.

Hints for Goal Setting:

  • Make sure the goals set are realistic taking into account the young athlete’s ability both physically and mentally.
  • Do not focus on results. Instead, develop goals based on hard work and improvement of skills. Stay away from on the field results, as children’s ability levels are very different.
  • Set goals that promote responsibility and intrinsic (self) motivation. These types of goals will not only allow your young athlete to better themselves athletically, but they will also help to develop valuable life skills.

Choosing a Coach/Team:

Before signing your child up for a team visit a practice or a game to make sure the coaching philosophies being implemented are congruent with what you want your children to experience. Many teams are considered elite and focus on winning first. They recruit the best talent, travel, and play in flashy tournaments but they also have a high intensity approach that put stress on the athletes. Make sure your child is ready for this commitment before committing them to the team. On the other hand a team may focus entirely on fun and not on skill development or any thing else for that matter. Some teams are too relaxed and don’t have the proper environment for maximizing the benefits of sport participation.

Hints for Choosing a Coach/Team:

  • Visit practices of prospective teams to see how they are run and how the athletes interact with the coach.
  • Pay attention to parent reactions and interactions while visiting practices or games.
  • Talk to parents about the team and see if they have any concerns.
  • Make sure that you, as a parent, are able to interact with the coach positively and with the other parents. Parent to coach and parent to parent confrontations can be very embarrassing for young athletes.
  • Most importantly make sure that your young athlete will be in a situation where they are able to enjoy themselves to the highest degree.