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There are few bigger pariahs than youth sports parents. Parents of kids participating in sports from little league to high school are responsible for 70% of cringe-worthy sports related YouTube clips. If you like sports, you like stats, and the stats say that if you don’t have them already, you’re more than likely going to end up with kids at some point in your life. Those kids could end up in sports, and their athletic careers could go far beyond wins and losses.
I was fortunate enough to play baseball for 15 years. The sport taught me more lessons that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life than I can count. It was influential in making me into the employee, father, and man I am today. Most of this is because I was fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great people in the game, especially my parents. If your kids make the choice to give sports a go, here are a few rules how to not screw up what should be a positive experience.
1. Accept That Your Career Is Over
Unless you’re a professional athlete, sports have left you behind. Whether you hung them up in little league, high school, college, it doesn’t matter. Much like the career of Mel Gibson, it’s just never coming back. So deal with it.
Your child isn’t an extension of you or your unrealized dreams. Little Timmy could into an All-American or decide he likes playing trombone over throwing spirals; either, way it’s his choice and his career. Just because you hit .213 in high school doesn’t mean you get to force your daughter onto the softball field to avenge the family honor. You had your shot at sports; let your kids choose their own path.
2. Leave Your Radar Guns & Stopwatches at Home
Guess who cares about your kid touching 70 at age 12? No one. No one cares. Your own personal scouting and evaluation kit for your child needs to be left in the car. The second you’re sitting behind home plate clocking your early-teens child’s pitches is the second you’ve taken the focus from fun and competition to, “You better get a scholarship.”
Leave the fastball velocities and 40 times to the legitimate scouts. Any child playing sports has enough to focus on without stressing about what’s on the radar gun. Just an FYI, no college or pro scout is going to believe your email that overstates your kid’s numbers anyways.
3. Understand the Difference Between Constructive Criticism and Negativity
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is a sports psychologist, and he said something about sport parent-kid relationships that stuck with me: “Kids learn on the ride home.” That’s crucial for a parent. Post-game, your kid is looking for feedback and advice. They aren’t looking to get beat down and told that they played like shit. The kid knows that going 0-4 with 3 Ks or air-balling every shot from downtown wasn’t exactly a stellar performance. They don’t need your expertise to tell them that.
Give them something positive, anything really, even after a disaster of a performance. That kid is craving any sort of reassurance because they’re at a pretty low place. Maybe you loved how hard they hustled that day or the way they supported their teammates. Whatever it was, let them know the day wasn’t a total failure, and then you can discuss some things they need to work on to have more success. No one needs to hear that they sucked less than someone who already knows they sucked.
4. Be Realistic About Your Kid
At the same time, while you can’t be full of negativity, you can’t assume your kid’s shit doesn’t stink either. Don’t be the parent who’s vocally complaining to the other parents that your child should be the three-hole hitter or the quarterback when they strike out at a 60% clip or can’t throw the ball 15 yards.
Plain and simple, you can’t be that person who preaches that “my kid is great and everyone else is wrong,” unless you want to raise a child who never acknowledges or addresses their shortcomings. If you don’t want your child to grow up and blame a recent firing on a boss who doesn’t like them, as opposed to their consistent workplace underperformance, don’t treat them like they have zero flaws on the field.
5. Don’t Undermine the Coach
Along with teachers, a coach is one of the first non-parent authority figures a child encounters in life. Learning to deal with your youth or high school coach is a good trial run for when you have to deal with a college coach and eventually your first boss. If your kid hasn’t been taught how to handle those interactions by then they’re dicked, because Mommy and Daddy aren’t around.
Maybe your kid’s coach is a dipshit who never even played the sport. Maybe they’re a coaching genius. Either way, they’re the coach, so stay the hell out of it. Unless you feel that your kid is being generally abused or mistreated, sit back and let that person give the orders. There’s a difference between asking your offspring’s coach what they can improve to garner more playing time vs telling them that your kid should be starting point guard and that his offense sucks. Stay the hell out of the dugout and grit your teeth, because it’s your job to teach the kid to be coachable, not interfere.
6. Chill Out at the Game
Not many worse looks than asshole Mom or Dad screaming bloody murder at coaches, umpires, or even other players. On my 13-year-old travel team, I was catching a guy who had the fastball command of a chimpanzee suffering a seizure. After he hurled yet another ball over my 4-foot body, I scampered to the backstop to retrieve it. I was greeted by his mother on the other side of the chain-link screaming at me for “missing” another one and making her son look bad. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as pissed on a baseball field as I was then.
The games are supposed to be fun and no one, not the coaches, umps, or players, are a professional. Everyone’s going to mess up. But don’t involve yourself in it and teach all the other kids that’s how you act. Kids are already wound up tight enough as it is, they don’t need to have the idea planted in their head to call some college-aged ump trying to make some extra money a cocksucker.
7. Teach to Deal With Failure, Not Run From It
I wasn’t necessarily a superstar at any point in my career. Talent wasn’t exactly flowing from every orifice of my body, which lead to more slumps than hot streaks and a constant struggle for playing time and respect. Failing at sports, even a sport you love and have a passion for, is a low point that leads to a lot of self-doubts. I brought up quitting more times than I can count, and I’m really lucky that my dad talked me out of it. Not by forcing me, but by reminding me about honoring commitments and not giving up on myself.
Your kids are gonna fail at way more than sports in their life, and in the grand scheme of things a failure with sports is much smaller than something at work or in their adult personal life. Teaching them to persevere through the tough times will help them in the long run. Sometimes walking away is the healthier option, but in most cases a little mental toughness to stick it out will pay off in the long run.
8. Understand the Bigger Picture
When your kids go on into adulthood and leave sports behind, just as you have, what’re the important things that they’ll be able to (hopefully) take away from the experience? The fun they had, the friends they made, and the building blocks for being successful in life that they gained. Not if they beat the Little League White Sox on a Tuesday night.
I was about as manic and competitive as you could get. I hated losing and let my emotions run hot constantly in my youth. That’s normal for a lot of kids, but it can’t be something they see reflected in the parents in the stands. Winning is great, but let’s face it, they aren’t playing in the World Series or NBA Finals. One game won’t make or break a career or a scholarship opportunity. Relax and let your kids enjoy their athletic endeavors. In the end, it’s their career to enjoy, and their choice to make. You can only do your best to be a positive influence, and hopefully, that leads to a positive athletic experience..