“I often say that the most competitive sport in America is parenting—sitting in the stands, competing with each other for a better seat in the bleachers of life, based on one’s child’s performance. These parents have forgotten the pure, unadulterated pleasure of their own play as children—if they ever felt it!”
—Joe Ehrmann, InsideOut Coaching
Anyone who knows me understands that I have a great passion for basketball. When the nurses at the hospital remarked upon how large my son’s feet were at birth, I admit my first thought was, “Maybe he has a future in the NBA.” Oh, I know the statistics, so I know the chances are small. But my passion for the game makes it only natural for me to want to share that passion with my children. The important part is remembering my purpose as a parent and keeping that as a priority. Will I stay focused on raising young people of character or would I fall victim to the hyper-focused, achievement-and-ability trap that so many other parents fall victim to in today’s culture?
If you are involved in sports at any level, you can see examples of parents ruining their children’s experience and getting caught up in their child’s ability, achievement, and acknowledgment. However, I do not want to be the parent who tries to control my child’s experience. I do not want to be the parent who lives vicariously through my child. My children’s lives are not a second chance for me to live out unfulfilled dreams or relive my glory days. So, I have created a list of 10 Dos and Don’ts to keep me grounded as I move forward into the sports parenting world.
My 10 Dos and Don’ts
- I don’t call my child’s coach to discuss playing time, strategy, development, or their teammates. My job is to parent, and the coach’s job is to coach. Instead, when my child is frustrated, I do encourage them to focus on what they can do to improve their circumstances and learn from their experience.
- I don’t praise my child for wins, points, goals, awards, or trophies. Constant praise of such things has been proven to foster a fixed mindset. Instead, I do praise them for their effort, attitude, and sportsmanship. Praise of these traits fosters a growth mindset and directs their focus to the process of reaching their full potential.
- I don’t speak poorly about the coach or other players to my child or other parents. People are doing the best they can with what they know. Instead, I do encourage my child to be a supportive teammate and someone who is fun to coach.
- I don’t pay for a personal trainer for my child until they have shown that they are willing to put the work in themselves. Instead, I do encourage them to ask their coach or look online for drills. If they want to get better, they must do the work.
- I don’t encourage my child to specialize in a sport or play “travel ball”. It has been proven to lead to burnout and more injuries, and it doesn’t develop the whole person. Instead, I do encourage my child to play multiple sports and participate in extracurricular actives, such as drama, art, and music.
- I don’t coach or referee from the sideline. It is distracting, disrespectful to the coach, and sets a poor example of sportsmanship. Instead, I do cheer on my child’s team, regardless of the circumstances (e.g., winning or losing, playing or sitting the bench).
- I don’t coach on the car ride home. It is not my job, and it will not be helpful. Instead, I do ask my child four questions:
- Did you have fun?
- Did you work hard?
- Did you have a good attitude?
- Did you appreciate the opportunity?
- I don’t spend my time fundraising or taking care of responsibilities that belong to the players. Doing so will rob my child of their responsibilities and their learning experience. Instead, I do hold my child responsible for their team commitments. If they fail to be responsible within their means, then they will suffer the consequences (e.g., miss practice, get cut from the team, sit a game).
- I don’t let sports take over our home and family life. Family dinners, vacations, and time together must be a priority. Instead, I do work to maintain a healthy balance in our commitments, and I do expect my teenager to hold a summer job to contribute. Sports are great and can be applied to life, but they aren’t real A miserable, hot, sweaty, minimum-wage job can be a great teacher!
- I don’t foster a sense of entitlement within my child to play sports. Instead, I do expect my child to complete their schoolwork and do their chores around the house if they expect to go to practice or a game.
The Sports Parent I Want to Be
Will following through on all these things be hard? Yes. But which is harder: parenting a child when they are 14 years old or parenting a child when they are 28 years old? We must remember that good parenting does not remove hurtful experiences from our kids’ lives, but it does help them navigate these experiences. My job as a parent will be to help guide them through their experiences. Most importantly, the parent I want to be ensures that his children will never forget their value comes from who they are as a person—not what they do on the field or on the court.