As parents, we all want the best for our kids, am I right? Well, when it comes to participating in sports deep down we all want our kid to be the star. At the very least we don’t want them to struggle so that their confidence is shattered.
Sports can have a long-lasting impact on our children. When your child’s experience is positive, sports can lead to improved social skills, better health, a much lower risk of negative influences, as well as improved self-esteem and confidence. As parents, our job is to help them develop as person who has character and values. How we participate in their growth as a parent will further mold them to be just that.
So as parents, how can we help our child love and enjoy the sport they are interested in?
In this article, I share 10 things we can do as parents to help encourage our children and help deepen their love for sports.
But before I do, let me tell you a story from my experience as a student athlete. Back in high school, I played football for Big Walnut High School. But prior to that I played for a pee wee team called the Harlem Hawks. I was a tiny, awkward, kid with dorky “Toughskins” pants, plaid shirts and glasses. Yes Toughskins was a real thing. I think Sears sold them, and they had those goofy patches over the knees so you wouldn’t get holes in the knees. Super smart really because back then, we played in the dirt, gravel, and mud. We needed tough jeans. I can’t believe kids now (and some adults) actually pay for jeans with holes in them. Anyways, I digress.
The point is I was NOT the stereotype model for your average football player.
While I would never outwardly admit it, inside I was also scared shitless to play football. I was certain I would get crushed by one of the older kids. Back then, it felt like every team had at least one kid who looked like he was 20 years old. Maybe they were, who knows. We had no rules in the 80’s.
So every week before practice I remember begging my mother and father to let me quit. Deep down I did not want to pee my pants when that man-giant came up to tackle me.
I remember my father telling me, “Don’t worry. As long as he is on your team, you have nothing to fear. Just give it a chance”.
Yeah, fat chance old man.
That kid was our linebacker and I was a skinny running back. Not even the starting one.
I only picked the position because some little cute cheerleader said running backs were cooler than everyone else. Well besides the quarterback. The quarterback always got the cutest cheerleader no matter how ugly he was. Since she wasn’t dating the quarterback, she probably figured running backs were the next best thing. And, the second, third or 100th cheerleader was still cute by my standards. Remember, I wore Toughskin jeans and had coke bottle glasses at age 10.
Anyways, this man-child on my team had one job.
Crush me (and any other running back that crossed his path).
Every. Single. Play
Well, after one practice of being bruised, battered and probably riddled with concussions, I decided that from that day forward, being on defense was a lot more fun. If a big running back or lineman came running towards me, I could trip or something and they wouldn’t hit me. Yes, I was that kid. At least until I got to middle school when my size started to catch up to the others. Thank God for puberty! Or at least in terms of playing sports.
Despite adversity, I adapted and overcome my fears and challenges and ended up playing football for several more years. I even went back to running back for a little while. However, I am still bitter that I never got to date a cheerleader. I am pretty sure that little girl cheerleader was just telling me that so she could watch me get crushed by that ogre linebacker. Little girls can be mean.
Anyways, that same awkwardness, and mediocre talent followed me through middle school and high school. I was OK, but never the star. I never scored a game-winning touchdown. But what I did have was the support of my team and my parents. I got better. I trained hard. I took it serious.
Looking back, I didn’t have to be on a winning team, I was already winning by what I gained through playing sports and learning what teamwork was. I learned how to work through my own awkwardness even though it would have been easier to stay inside and watch Gilligan’s Island, or play on my Atari.
Parent Tip #1: Be present and supportive of your child. Always.
I know that is easy to say and we believe it, but sometimes it is hard to actually do, especially with job pressure, a million activities, Internet on our phones, and so on.
But it is important for your child.
Your child has to know you are there for them.
“My heroes are and were my parents. I can’t see having anyone else as my heroes.”
I was fortunate. My parents would travel rain or shine to every game, no matter what. They also did not roll in at the last second and act annoyed that they had to be there. They may have been, but they certainly did not show it. They even sat in the stands in the exact same spot.
Looking back that was probably my mother’s doing because she organizes every little thing and logistic at least 6 months in advance. My mother and father felt I would end up in the emergency squad after every play, yet still supported my desire to play football. Even today, at age 49, when I do crazy little things, like run half or full marathons, they support me despite the fear they have that I will drop dead from a heart attack. I tell them the same thing I told them 25-30 years ago. “If I drop dead, I at least do it doing the thing I love”.
One last point. On my online run coaching website, I had the opportunity to recently interview Ryan Hall, two time Olympian, and fastest American male record holder in the half and full marathon.
In the interview, Ryan said out of all his coaches and supporters, his best coach was his father. Let that sink in for a second!
Here is a guy who has access to some of the best running coaches in the world, but it was his father who had his back throughout his career and kept encouraging him. His father used to drive him a couple times per week an hour away so Ryan could run at sea level and on a soft surface. (Elite runners often train at high altitudes so they can run faster at sea level).
Parent Tip #2: Accept that progress in any sport takes a long time.
In any sport there is a process that you have to go through. Often it can take 7-10 years AFTER you reach maturity in a sport to even reach your full potential as an athlete. Natural talent can help speed up that process and we have to realize that they are just beginning their journey, even if they have been playing for a few years. Some kids started that journey earlier than others, but that does not mean your kid won’t benefit from starting late. The best day to start that journey was in the past. The next best day is today, the next best day is tomorrow. Just start that journey. Our coaching can sometimes take weeks, months, or years off the process, but it still takes time and it still requires patience.
Parent Tip #3: Don’t bribe your kid to start (or quit) a sport by buying them something.
Ok, here is one of my biggest parent failure moments. When my oldest daughter was in middle school, she wanted to join a competitive dance team. I was totally supportive until I found out that they had to buy expensive dance costumes for just about every competition and travel.
Ummm, no thank you. Hey Ashley, how about we take all that money we would spend on costumes and travel and buy you that new iPod Touch that you have been begging for? To this day, I feel like I robbed her of an incredible life experience. Lesson learned, kids don’t need an iPod Touch or anything to play (or not play) a sport.
Parent Tip #4: Be calm, relaxed and dignified at competitions and games.
OK, so several years ago, I was coaching my daughter’s team in OYAA soccer. She was in the 3rd grade. I want to repeat this was a team of 3rd and 4th graders. The coach of the opposing team and I were on one side of the field with our team, and from across the field we could hear one of the parents from the other team screaming at his daughter as well as frequently yelling at the referee, who was a high school student. After enough of his crap, I walked over to the other coach, who was also visibly annoyed and we decided to stop the game, walk over to the parent and told him he either needed to shut up, or we were stopping the game. I don’t care who you are, you don’t need to be that parent. I have seen parents get caught up in the excitement and say some really stupid things. If I hear it, you will get called out.
Parent Tip #5: Don’t specialize too early.
To become a great athlete, you have to start with a great foundation. Before worrying about your child being the fastest sprinter, we have to work on their endurance. Only when strength and endurance is in place, does speed come. To be a great pitcher you have to build strength to support the number of throws you will need to perfect that fast pitch or curve ball. This takes time to develop.
Finally, specializing too early does not allow enough time to find what they are naturally good at. Allow your child to explore different sports and activities and they will find their way to the right sport or position.
Parent Tip #6: Praise effort over results.
All of us benefit from positive reenforcement. When you praise effort over results, you encourage your child to try hard, learn new skills, and have the confidence to use those new skills during competition. We want our children to win, but we also need to give them the confidence to try that new skill in a game, without the fear of losing. Always reward effort.
Parent Tip #7: Encourage a wide range of training activities that includes broad movements like running, balancing, agility, speed, coordination, and strength.
These skills create the foundation and fitness level that allows your child to develop the sport specific skills. I don’t care how good your child can shoot penalty kicks if they can’t run up and down the soccer field for an hour. Your cross country athlete may be fast, but if they don’t condition for strength and endurance they will fall behind those who have trained for strength and endurance.
Parent Tip #8: Encourage down time
More is not always better when it comes to sport performance. Having occasional downtime where there is no school or training allows your child to have mental breaks and allows their body to recover from days, weeks and sometimes months of training. We help our athletes sometimes more, when we focus on recovery periods, or slowing down, so that they can move ahead.
Parent Tip #9: There are no miracle supplements or sport drinks that will help you perform better.
The sports supplement market is riddled with crap I would not let my dog eat if he was starving. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that is not regulated and most ‘lab tested’ supplements are funded and paid for by the company that wants the ‘lab testing’ label on their product. Encourage them to eat real food and drink water. And yes, they can eat junk food occasionally. If you saw the average diet of a collegiate athlete your head would explode, even though many have access to team nutritionists. Kids will still eat junk food when they are with their friends. Restricting diet too much leads to disordered eating habits.
Parent Tip #10: Support the Coach
Trust me when I say this, but by far the vast majority of coaches have your child’s best interest in mind. I can’t tell you how many times I had a parent complain because their little johnny (well, Janie in my case since I was coaching soccer) because their child only played one quarter. I had to remind them, that if they had brought little Janie to the game on time, they would have started and played the first quarter. I scheduled out my 3rd graders so they had equal playing time, but you would be surprised how many showed up 5-10 minutes late to a game.
At Run For Performance, we believe the best person to coach your child during a sports season is their coach.
We will never coach a child while they are in season because we do not want to interfere with your child’s sport-specific coach. If your child’s coach has an off season program, we encourage you to follow theirs over ours because they have a goal. If there is no off season program, then we fill that gap.
We support all our local coaches 110% and our job is to make their job a little easier by hopefully preparing kids in advance of the season. We also support the kids by ensuring that they feel confident and ready to go on day one of their season.
If we can help your child’s journey in any way, please let us know. We would love to team with you to help you make your child’s sport experience a positive lasting memory and great experience.