9 Ways to be a Killer Sports Parent by Sonya North
With spring sports almost in full swing, and being a “sports mom” for almost a decade now, I’ve had a lot of time to sit on the sidelines, observe, and learn from the behavior of other parents. Here are 9 ways that I think we can all be better sports parents.
Don’t orchestrate your child’s team roster
Many parents think it’s a great idea to invite all of their child’s BFFs to be on the same team—for soccer, and basketball, and baseball, and flag football, etc. I get it, taxiing kids to and from sports practices and games can be difficult and tiring. And sitting through a 2 hour baseball game can be very boring. But by putting your child on a team with only their friends they miss out on some great life lessons.
In the real world, your child wont be able to pick their boss, and will not be working in a group with his closest friends. She will have to deal with people she dislikes, who are unkind, and with people who are different from her. It is important to teach our kids to be respectful and inclusive of others, no matter if they are friends or not. That’s difficult to practice if they are never put in that situation.
Let the coaches…coach
Remember that most of your child’s coaches are volunteers. They are doing the best they can. Be respectful. If they ask for help or coverage during practices, volunteer. Pick up your child from practice on time. Remember to show gratitude, have your child thank the coach at the end of each practice and game.
Don’t invest a lot of $ on equipment
Obviously buy necessary safety equipment, like mouth guards, shin guards—but don’t go crazy and buy a $200 baseball bat, $90 cleats and a $70 glove. We are talking youth sports here, if you have soccer cleats, those can more than likely be used for softball/baseball. When you buy your child high-end equipment, you are communicating to them that they need to spend a lot of money in order to be a great athlete. When in reality, their performance as an athlete is directly tied the level of effort they put forth, not their equipment.
Focus on growth mindset
When you praise your child for being a “natural” at their sport, you’re actually putting pressure on them to be perfect and not make mistakes. Instead, consider saying “I love watching you play.” Parents who use a growth mindset put the focus on effort rather than talent. You could come from a long line of soccer players, but if you don’t put forth effort, you are wasting your time. People with a growth mindset view challenges as a way to test themselves, instead of a threat that should be avoided. Without effort and perseverance through challenges you will never achieve mastery. The best athletes are always the most coachable ones. Try to help you child to accept feedback from their coach as a way to improve, not something that should be taken personally.
Teach your child responsibility
If you are carrying your child’s equipment on and off the field, please stop. They should learn how to manage their equipment on their own. For sports that are equipment heavy (like baseball/softball), consider using an old backpack their sports bag. Attach a checklist for them and put it on their bag so they don’t forget items. I created a printable checklist here for lacrosse, softball, baseball and soccer. I would print this on cardstock or laminate it and pin it to their bag so they check it when they leave the house AND the field.
Don’t show up with snacks
Feed your children BEFORE practice or games. I have noticed a direct correlation between my son’s performance and the quality of food he had prior to practice. Kids should not be eating snacks during periods of physical activity, not only can cause stomach discomfort, but it can also put another child on the team at risk. The odds are that there is at least one child on the team with a food allergy. Out of respect and safety, make feeding your child a healthy snack/meal in advance a priority.
Please, whatever you do, don’t pass out snacks at the end of a game without checking with team parents first. You might think it’s a kind gesture, but again, the implications can be life-threatening for kids with food allergies. Consider sharing a safe list of snacks with the team, you can do that using snackroots.com and it takes less than a minute. Before the first game, find out what food allergies there are on your team. Enter them into the snackroots.com app, and it automatically generates a list of safe snacks customized for your team. You can then share link to the list with your team via email, facebook, teamSNAP, or SignUpGenius.
Enjoy the present moment
Seriously. Enjoy the game that is being played in front of you, right now. Don’t project your child’s sports career way out into the future. Many people are already planning for their child’s full-ride sports scholarships and professional career from their folding chair at a little league game. Let your child enjoy the sport that they are playing and if it leads to something in the future that’s a bonus. Only 1% of undergraduates receive full-ride athletic scholarships, so you’re better off saving what you would spend on travel sports and dump it into a college savings vehicle. Just saying.
Don’t overspecialize too early
This goes hand in hand with my last point. Most professional athletes did not specialize in their sport until 14-15 years of age. According to SportBusiness Journal, encouraging kids to overspecialize early leads to overuse injuries, causes burnout and decreases overall athleticism. Participating in multiple sports leads to better performance, less injury, less burnout and social isolation, and more lifelong enjoyment of sports.
So, the next time you find yourself frazzled shuffling kids around, remember that sports are something to be enjoyed. Take a deep breath and remember that the purpose of participating in sports should not be to gain a college scholarship or become a professional athlete. Participating in team sports teaches valuable life lessons like respect, gratitude, perseverance, responsibility, and resilience. If we are lucky, they will have a memory filled with team sports wisdom to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Sonya is a mom of 3, with 2 children who have multiple life-threatening food allergies. She has been advocating for food allergy awareness and inclusion for over a decade as a parent, coach, PTO member, den mother and girl scout troop leader. She created SnackRoots.com, a web tool to help include kids with food allergies at events, sports, and more.
Thank you Sonya for sharing your experiences with us as a Mom to children on sports teams!
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