Three Things Youth Sports Parents Need to Ask Themselves

Three Things Youth Sports Parents Need to Ask Themselves

Parents make hundreds of thousands of decisions by the time their child is 18 years old. These decisions range from minor ones, such as what to pack for lunch, to more significant decisions, like what school they should attend or what extracurricular activities they should participate in. We carefully consider education choices like which school fits them best and what classes will help them grow and excel. We make countless decisions around injuries and illness and guide them through social and emotional challenges or whether they can get their nose pierced. We make most of these decisions by gut instinct, discussing the pros and cons with our kids and spouse, speaking to friends about it, or just googling.

But for some reason, when it comes to our kids and sports, we seem to have lost the ability to make rational and reasonable decisions. The rise of specialized sports training programs, kids starting sports younger, and the seemingly impossible challenge of getting a child into a ‘good’ college has fueled this trend and, along with it, created an 18 billion dollar youth sports industry, to which there appears to be no end in sight.

We feel caught. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. So most of us do. And our kids are suffering because of it.

Simply put. We lose our way.

We put sports ahead of everything else in our lives and theirs. But we do have a choice. And each time we make healthy and positive
decisions, we are modeling behavior that is sending an incredibly important message to our kids. Your health, and happiness are more important than your sports. YOU are more important than what you do. And each time we make a good decision, we are also modeling this behavior for other parents. It’s called; behavioral contagion. So how do we do this? How do we start to make the right choices so that our kids won’t continue to suffer both physically and mentally? So that our relationships with them won’t be strained and in need of repair? And guess what, so that they will also love sports, succeed in sports and play sports as long as possible?

We use these three questions to guide each youth sports decision we make.

1. Is it age appropriate?

Before the age of thirteen or prior to puberty, fun and multi-movement should be the focus. Kids should play and practice no more in a week than their age. Kids should be sampling many sports and following sports seasons. They shouldn’t become multi-simultaneous athletes, trying to play multiple sports at one time. They should spend as much time as they can doing multi- movement activities, like playing at the park, playing outside with friends, running, jumping, skipping, and climbing. Moving their bodies in all different directions and all different movements. This will develop their athleticism and a strong, balanced base that will help prevent injury and also prevent burnout. If waiting until 13 to join a club or specialize seems unrealistic for your child’s own goals, then focus on keeping it fun when they are younger and not pressuring them but allowing them to decide what’s right and when.

2. Is it what my child wants?

Or steps towards THEIR goal, not mine or a coach’s or anyone else’s? This WILL CHANGE often. So communicate regularly with your child about what they want. My daughter originally had the goal of being an Olympic athlete, then a college athlete; then, she didn’t want to play at all. But we didn’t have open conversations along the way, and she didn’t want to disappoint me when her goals changed. We have to make these conversations a regular part of the journey, and we need to be open-minded and not be upset if their decisions aren’t what we want. This doesn’t mean you
allow them to make a change mid-season on a whim; this means you continually talk and discuss and let them guide the process and update and pivot when they are ready and when it makes sense to do so. Most athletes take time away from their sports and often return; give them the space to do that.

3. Does it make sense for our family

for the value system our family upholds? Just because other teammates are doing the two-week sleep-away camp doesn’t mean your child has to. Don’t be afraid to talk about priorities and budgeting with your child. It’s good for them to know you aren’t willing to allow youth sports costs to take the place of a family vacation. Make decisions around what your family values are. Will going to a grandparent’s 80th birthday party mean your child will miss a game or a tournament? Might that be worth it? What message are you sending when sports become more important than a family gathering? Are you worried your child will be penalized by the coach? Well, so be it, or change teams. If more families make these kinds of decisions, then maybe we can get back to a balanced approach to youth sports, one where parents and coaches agree that the child’s well-being is more important than winning at all costs. If you use these simple questions to guide your every decision, you will not only raise happy and healthy athletes, but they will also be successful because you will be allowing them ownership over this process while setting clear guidelines and values about what is meaningful in your family and in life.

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