Venus and Serena Williams. Michael Jordan. Peyton Manning. Danica Patrick. These athletes began honing their craft at a young age and were driven to succeed and excel beyond their competition. These household names are just a few that kids admire today. Seeing your child’s drive towards success may make you wonder if they’re next in line for a professional contract. How do you balance their desire and passion while keeping the pressure to succeed at bay?
Close to 45 million children and teens participate in athletics in the United States. That means 75 percent of families have at least one child participating in team sports. Studies show not only do sports help children learn leadership and teamwork, they also help teach healthy habits. Plus youth athletics can provide important peer-to-peer interaction with people of other cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The demands to succeed in today’s sports are heavy. Earn a coveted spot on the team. Pay for extra lessons to fine tune skills. Join a travel team to stay sharp and competitive. Overtraining can cause mental and physical strain and become a disruptor of family time, finances and academics. There’s also the matter of sports-related injuries which can feel like earning frequent flyer miles to the emergency room.
So how can parents keep their athlete’s dream alive while maintaining balance?
Keep it real
Just as every situation is unique, so is every young athlete. Young athletes will experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows during a season. Resentment towards their sport may show itself when kids miss opportunities with friends or when they compare themselves to teammates and opponents. Keep communication open. Address their fears. Remind them that the emotional ups and downs they experience—along with comparison to peers—is normal. Sometimes, kids want parents to listen to their venting, not just fix the situation.
Build their value
The joy of winning and agony of defeat are real. Rather than emphasizing how amazing they are or how they failed, build up the positive aspects. Rather than saying, “You were the best one out there today,” or “You certainly didn’t do great today,” remind your child what went well and how they were successful. “I love how you gave Mike an opportunity to take that last shot before the buzzer,” or “Wasn’t it amazing how Lily blocked for you to make that goal?” Kids will get razzed enough by their own self-defeating thoughts, teammates and—sadly—some coaches. So build up their self-worth. “Better luck next time” is a great motto to have.
If issues arise with coaches, listen to your child’s concerns without interruption. Keep in mind the way your son or daughter sees the situation may not be what the coach intended. Encourage your child to speak with the coach before you step in on their behalf. Kids need to work through conflict, not avoid it. For bigger issues, never think twice about asking for a meeting with the mindset that all parties come together calmly to iron out the situation.