Youth sports are a big part of learning self confidence, rules, sportsmanship, perseverance and a myriad of life skills. Most kids aren’t going on to get college scholarships, or are even playing at a varsity level later in life. As parents, I really think it’s important to introduce your children to a variety of sports activities, if nothing else so they can fit in at the playground, after school, in gym class and in pick-up games for fun and not be a social outcast with no skills. They may never be great, but a basic level of skill at the fundamentals is a good start as they grow older, and who knows, maybe they actually really like sports, or a particular sport, and excel at it.
What we don’t want to do as parents is to live too vicariously through our children, to be too critical in our internal quest to have the next Derek Jeter or Aaron Rodgers. We’ve seen those parents in the stands that are yelling and think a little league game is a Game 7 of the World Series. This article at the Christian Science Monitor states the problem with youth sports is adults. We live in a town where boys are purposely starting kindergarten later so they can be bigger for the football team in High School. Very competitive youth environment. We are not a part of that.
Why do kids play sports? To have fun. Not to win (which isn’t even in the top 10 reasons), but to have fun. Parents can take the fun out of the activity. I recently read the number one reason that kids quit sports is because they don’t like the car ride home after the game or competition. Many said THEY HATED THE CAR RIDE HOME. Parents may place a higher emphasis and importance on the event than the child and in doing so may be critical or beat a horse that the child doesn’t want to talk about. The advice given by sports psychologists is to SAY NOTHING, and let them bring it up as a topic on the ride home. If you must critique, use the sandwich approach – start with a compliment/positive, move into the critique and what they did wrong, finish with a compliment/positive comment.
Additionally, in further reading, the number one thing you can do as a parent after watching a practice or competition is to say “I LOVE watching you play/practice”. Great advice. Holly and I as parents emphasize the satisfaction from hard work and persevering through effort versus those things that come naturally in school or athletics. If BirdsNest got an “A” on a test, it is “That great! All the hard work you did in learning XYZ really paid off” versus “Wow, you’re really smart”. Praise the process and not the result, praise the effort and not skills they are born with.
We are going to continue to introduce a variety sport skills to our kids, enroll them in some form of athletic program in their youth (at our direction if they can’t choose) and support them in their efforts. I can see already that we’re way less into youth sports than some of our neighbors and friends. I want our kids to have a balanced, fun childhood and running around to two different sports leagues per kid at 7 year old doesn’t sound like fun for the child who just wants to play baseball in the backyard with his dad or friend, or rollerblade around the block and play with friends. I’m much more of let the kids be kid attitude, as there is a lot of time for serious pursuit of goals later in life.
Regardless of your thoughts on youth sports, hopefully you can take to heart these messages of being quiet on the ride home and supporting the effort of gaining skills, even if they are doing sports to have fun. They’ll likely enjoy it more and stick with it longer than the alternative heavy handed approach.