Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Parents and Youth Sports

My wife and I have three children, ages 13, 11 and 7. We’ve had them in all kinds of sports just like many of you reading this post. We’ve coached, driven cross town/state/country, paid, prayed, fretted, worried, yelled from the sidelines, (OK, I yelled once or twice at home as well), brought snacks, bought equipment, lost equipment, bought more equipment, dealt with refs, other coaches, other parents, dealt with clubs and leagues and schedules that don’t come out til last minute, purchased lots of trophies (and hey, what’s up with all the trophies anyhow? When I was a kid you were lucky to get a trophy if you actually won something. Now we give trophies out for showing up to the pizza party.)

Sorry, got side-tracked there for a moment...

The point is we’ve been there just like you. Through the ups and the downs, highs and lows. Let me share some principles that are true regardless of whether your child is good and plays all the time or not. These principles revolve around time, identity, growth, us and again, time.

1, TIME – My children do not need to be pressured to excel at a young age, regardless of what society says. (Jordan Sparks, Am Idol winner at 17, Freddy Adu professional soccer player at 14, Doogie Howser, wait that was just a tv show, but speaking of tv shows how many child actors experience problems? Yeah, I think a lot of them.) Though I want her to do her best, if my girl is not showing a great aptitude for a particular sport it’s OK. She might later as she matures or as she gets more “reps”… then again, she might not... It’s my job to help her discover what she’s good at and many times that takes several years and lots of experimenting.

2, IDENTITY – My identity is not based on my child’s performance. Of course I want him to do well and of course, I feel good when he excels. But it’s not about me. I’m the adult. I’m going find a way to feel good about myself that doesn’t factor in how many goals, home runs or touchdowns my boy made or missed.

3, GROWTH – We grow more in difficult times than in good times. That’s just the way it is. It’s how life works because difficult times present more opportunities. In this case the opportunity to let my boy know that though we live in a performance based society my love for him doesn’t operate that way. A parent should really wrestle with what that last sentence means.

4, US - OK, my first priority is my child. Granted. But, I have to open my eyes. Life is never about my own small little group... it’s never just about you and me… it’s always about “us”. Who is the “us” that I need to be aware of? Well, it might be another child, another family or (big breath) someone on the other team! They’re all a part of the “us”. Not only is looking out for others a better way of living it helps my child as well which again, is my first priority. My priority watches me. Does he see me thanking or arguing with the coach? Does she hear me complaining about the ref or showing respect? Does he watch me berate or congratulate other teams? I know, those hit way too close to home.

5, AND BACK TO TIME – I’m not going to put off my responsibility as a parent onto the coach (or teacher, or youth pastor, etc…). I’ve got to spend time with my child. I’ll never forget one year when a little guy who I really liked came up to me after practice. He stood there for a moment with me watching my boy throw the ball. He looked at me for a minute and said, “Do you and Evan, like, play catch everyday?” I said, “Well not everyday but usually a couple times a week.” Then I said, “Don’t you play catch with your dad?” He said, “No. We don’t have time.”

If life is a bank then time is the currency.

Parenting is your most important and challenging assignment in life. Use sports as a way to be a better parent, to get closer to your child and to be supportive. Hey, if they get great at it in the meantime that’s even better but I’m not sure that should be your goal. OK, I have to go. I got a soccer practice to get to.

possible helpful link - youth sports psychology blog

I might regret saying this but if you know me from the ball field, keep me honest about what I just wrote!

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