Sports Parenting 101

Sports Parenting 101

We watch them enter the ring. Our hearts are beating in our chests. We watch hours of practice and sacrifice step onto the mats for two minutes to shine and we hold our breath. We wait for the marks. We watch the score.

“So how was the tournament?” The subtext being …. “Did they win?”

It is a proud parenting moment when we say “yes”. Their triumph, for that brief shining moment, is ours; a reflected glory to be sure but to bask in it is like stepping from the shadows into the light. Without meaning to, we live vicariously through our children and begin to see their triumphs as our own. Our goals and aspirations somehow come to life when we watch our kids in sports.

We’ve all watched, and God forbid, sometimes been, a parent behaving badly. Admit it, we’ve all been there. Emotions get the better of us. We get excited. We get passionate. We practically pop a vein over a call in a match. What was the judge looking at, are they blind?

One parent at a tournament several years ago had, without thinking of consequence, itemized for their child exactly why they didn’t win in front of other parents and competitors. The young boy had taken the stage in front of a room filled with people. The lights dimmed. The spotlight shone. You could see his nerves. You could feel his courage. He did his best; he was amazing and in return, he received a laundry list of reasons why a trophy was not coming home that day from the one person who should have just said “I’m so proud of you”.

The child listened with head bowed. One can all only imagine the thoughts taking root. The most important person in his young life had made him think:

  • I am a disappointment
  • You only love me if I win
  • I’ll do better next time, I promise
  • I hate this sport. I want to quit.

The sound of a small heart breaking could be heard in the auditorium.

Words matter. Actions matter. We need to remember that.

Kids are keenly aware of the pressures of competition. It takes guts, grit, and sacrifice. No one, no matter the age, steps into the ring wanting to lose. And so, they look out into the sea of faces surrounding them. They feel the pressure building, they breathe, and they find their centre. The noise is deafening. They hear their teammates cheering. They strain to hear their coach’s voice cutting through the mayhem keeping them calm, keeping them focused, giving them confidence.

And they look for you, the most important person in their young life, their biggest cheerleader. And they need to see that no matter what … they have you. Not as their coach but as their parent. Because no matter the hours of training we have watched, no matter the number of tournaments we have attended … we are not their coach. And it’s important not to blur those lines.

When a competition does not go the way they want, they feel disappointed enough, they neither need nor deserve the added weight of feeling that in some way we are disappointed as well however temporary or unintentional.

It’s important to realize that it is in the quiet moments when we distill the noise and the expectation that we find the most clarity.

  • When you see your child lose but congratulate the winner … and mean it.
  • When you see your child sacrifice their own practice time to help a younger competitor.
  • When you see your child comforting a disappointed teammate or making them go back in the ring after showing bad sportsmanship.
  • When you watch your child wait, sometimes long after they are finished competing, to support a teammate.
  • When you see your child receive their medal with dignity and quietly take it off and put it away or just give it to a wide-eyed little one watching from the sidelines.
  • When you watch your child make a mistake, draw a deep breath, finish, and bow.
  • When you get to see the fully formed person that your child is becoming.

These are the moments, when you watch your child, and you like the person that you see.

Sports Parenting 101

  • Be their cheerleader. Cheer so loud that it’s embarrassing.
  • Hug them when they come to you.
  • Wipe a tear if needs be.
  • Be their parent.

Leave coaching where it belongs … with the coaches. Coaches see our children through the prism of a different light and that lets them shine even brighter.

And when someone asks you “So, how was the tournament?” Just tell the truth. “It was awesome. I am so proud.”

M. Clarke

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