Brian Baxter with older son, Hawk
Raising a young athlete can be at the same time: rewarding and frustrating, exhilarating and boring, energizing and exhausting! A few years ago, I wrote about Being a Student of Parenting – really taking this crazy world of youth sports and making it about learning how to be a better parent.
Since 1999, SPINw has worked with thousands of youth and high school athletes to help them build or re-build confidence, improve focus, set goals, and deal with the pressure of elite level sports. This process always involves the parents! As the young athlete learns new techniques, the parents are their best support system, and also need tools to help.
So, read on to find out 5 Things Amazing Sports Parents Do:
1 – They keep the BIG PICTURE in mind
Sports parents most important insight is perspective. For a young athlete, every game is the biggest game of their lives – which can bring with it extra stress, pressure and anxiety. “What is I don’t play well?” “What if all that hard work and training doesn’t pay off in this competition?” “What if I let someone down?” The last thing a parent wants to do is add on to that stress level in any way.
If you were an athlete growing up, hopefully you will have some perspective on things. You will be able to separate the “must win” game from a learning experience. You know that, as important as this game seems now, in the words of John Popper from Blues Traveler: “It won’t mean a thing in 100 years.” Even if you weren’t an athlete growing up, you most likely experienced similar situations in other areas of life, such as music, performing, or simply in your career life.
An amazing sports parent has the proper perspective on the BIG PICTURE, which is – what is my child gaining from this experience? What, from each and every day of training or competition, will my child learn that will help them later in life? Amazing sports parents keep this in mind at all times when involved in their child’s sporting life.
2 – They know their role
Sports parents are just that – parents. They are not the coach – please do NOT coach your kids from the sidelines. This goes against the BIG PICTURE. There may be times when coaching from the sidelines will help in the short term. But it’s robbing them of crucial things! Like learning from their mistakes (see #3), learning how to be coachable and communicate with their teammates, sharpening their decision-making skills, and just simply figuring things out on their own.
They are not the referee. There is no making a scene at a perceived bad call or blaming a loss on the officials. Young athletes must be able to deal with adversity, and know how to play with sportsmanship. This growth is stunted by bad examples set by parents and coaches who focus too much on the referees.
Most importantly, they do not live vicariously through their kids. Ultimately, it’s the kids’ game, not the parents’.
3 – They allow space for their athlete to learn through mistakes and failure
Amazing sports parents can avoid the classic traps of being a “helicopter parent” or a “lawnmower parent.”
That is, they do not come to the rescue every time there is a problem. If a young athlete gets cut from the tryout, or makes a key mistake in a key moment, they are going to feel terrible. It is in our DNA as parents to comfort and make things okay for our kids. But amazing sports parents do not go overboard in this area. They are supportive and available, but they do not actively try to fix things.
In any athletic competition, an athlete goes through an emotional rollercoaster. And so does the parent watching from the stands. Amazing sports parents allow space for their athletes to emotionally process their successes and failures. They do not pile on with “woulda, coulda, shouldas”, nor do they deny their kids the opportunity for their own emotional processing. Rather, they allow the appropriate time and space for their athlete to make mistakes, and learn from failures.
Brian with younger son, Zavier
4 – They help foster internal motivation in their athletes
Amazing sports parents know that external motivations such as winning, incentives (financial or otherwise), and coaches, parents and other people, do not last over the long term. They know that internal motivation, such as self-improvement and mastery, being a part of something bigger than themselves, is the more sustainable motivation for life.
One way to do this is to approach communication with your athlete from a “growth mindset”
perspective. That is, to praise controllable elements in performance such as attitude and effort. And to not praise athletes based on their talent or athleticism. Amazing sports parents know that if an athlete attributes his or her success to work rate and positivity, they are likely to continue living these qualities.
5 – They create a peaceful environment on the car ride home
This is the most tangible piece of advice for sports parents, based on feedback I generally receive from them. Many of you have probably read this study about the 6 words to say to your athlete
after a competition. This strategy sums up the other 4 items in this list, and puts it into a practice action item, which goes like this:
Amazing sports parents, on the car ride home, simply let their athlete know; “I loved watching you play.” or “I really enjoyed that game, it was fun.” no matter what the result or how good or bad the performance. Then they wait for their child to initiate any further conversation.
This is BIG PICTURE thinking! You are not overanalyzing or dissecting the day. Not making it any bigger or smaller than it was. In the big picture, hopefully, it was fun watching your child compete, succeed, fail, learn, communicate, listen, and grow! If not, you definitely need to ask yourself why? What is getting in the way?
If your child doesn’t say anything on the ride home, they are emotionally processing what has happened. No matter how happy or sad they are, these emotions will eventually pass, and translate into learning and growth. Amazing sports parents do not interfere with this! Also, it’s important to not that the parent has just gone through an emotional experience. So, amazing sports parents allow themselves the same emotional processing time.
Of those 5 things, how many of them do you do consistently? Which areas do you feel like you need work on? Like with anything else, self-improvement comes from awareness, a desire to change, knowledge, and application of knowledge. And in this case, you are not only helping yourself, but you can help your young athlete as well. You too can be an amazing sports parent!