What Should Youth Sports Really Be About?
Not long ago I met an older dad whose daughter had received a full-ride to play softball at a small college. While he was proud of his only child’s accomplishments, he also shook his head at the cost of it all.
The cost? Wasn’t it a full athletic scholarship? Not exactly. You see, he kept detailed records of every sports-related endeavor from when she was a little girl. He kept receipts from participation fees, equipment purchases, camps, lessons, tournaments, travel tournaments, hotels and meals. When he tallied up all the tabs, it was a wash. He and his wife broke even when compared to the scholarship his daughter received.
So while his daughter achieved a dream to play college sports which not many enjoy, there was a heavy price tag to getting there. But there’s another equally important lesson in all this.
While it’s a very worthy dream to play college or pro sports – and we certainly all need dreams and goals – the brutal reality is your child won’t likely achieve it. The truth is there are only so many scholarships, and only so many spots on pro rosters.
That shouldn’t temper your enthusiasm when you watch your four-year old start soccer, but it should put things in perspective. When your encouragement comes off as looking more overbearing and controlling, it’s time to sit back and rethink why we let our kids play sports.
Let the coaches coach. Let the refs ref. Your job is to parent, which means you have some important jobs to do.
Set your ego aside
How your child performs during a game isn’t going to determine your worth as a person or standing in the community. It’s natural to daydream about your child being featured in the sports section, but it really doesn’t do much for your resume, nor your child’s. If you can keep your ego in check throughout the season, it will also help your child to do so early in his/her development.
Don’t take it too seriously
Remember why you played sports in the backyard as a kid? There were no uniforms, no crowd, no trophies – it was all about fun. If children play their best, the wins will eventually come. If they don’t win, the important thing is that they enjoy it. Some of the best athletes in the world do what they do because it’s fun to them. When players lose sight of that, they often retire. Don’t let that happen to a child.
Don’t interfere with the coach’s job
Coaches are there to teach, instruct, and lead, so let them do their jobs. It’s awfully tempting to interfere when it comes to playing time or strategy, especially if you believe you know more about the game, but let those people alone. They are normally volunteers and they deserve everyone’s respect.
Don’t push your child too hard
As adults, we know what we like and don’t like. But your child is still learning and discovering a whole lot of new things in life: friends, movies, school, tastes, hobbies, toys. It’s fine to offer some solid encouragement, but there’s no need to overdo the reps, time invested, and general consumption of a sport 24/7. If they like a sport, they’ll gravitate toward it naturally.
Don’t obsess about statistics
There’s a reason why many young kids’ sports leagues don’t turn on the scoreboard – they don’t want it to be about winning and losing. Same goes for how many goals or points your child scores. Try to pay more attention to the team and less to your own child. Granted, that’s difficult to do, but you’ll find yourself enjoying the game far more than tallying up statistics in your mind.
Sports can be a lot of fun, as long as we regularly remind ourselves why our kids do it.