Sunday January 24 2021
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The Challenges of Being a Sports Parent

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Wherever you are on your path as a sports parent, it’s good to stop and examine your approach to their activity. Do you pay enough attention? Are you pushing your child a little too hard?

We’ve all heard about (or have seen) the overbearing parent who shouts too loudly at games, bullies the coach to play their child more, and every once in a while gets ejected from the game. The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) even has a program for parents whose members make a pledge to “bench irrational behavior in youth sports.” 

Using video-based education, the Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) program helps parents to understand their responsibilities and role in sports and how they can make their child’s experience positive and enjoyable. 

So whether your child is extremely good at his or her sport or still struggling to do the basics, here are some pointers on how to be a good role model and help your child make the most of his or her playing experience from Joseph Austerman, DO, Section Head of Cleveland Clinic’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. His pointers are supported by the NAYS.

1. Focus on the fun of the sport
Play is the basis of how we learn everything. We have to make some mistakes along the way to learn how to do things the right way. “As a parent you are the most aware of the mistakes that your child is making,” says Dr. Austerman. “Your child is not an expert. There will always be times when it feels that other children are out-performing your child while playing.” Children typically are so focused on their own play that they aren’t comparing themselves to other players. You do not want to rate your child’s performance based on others. This will introduce a sense of doubt or shame when they make mistakes and they will lose any sense of fun. Always ask first, “did you have fun.” Let them know this is what’s important.  

2. Emphasize learning
There is so much to learn from sports. Being a team player is one key learning. Children will learn how they fit into a group, what their strengths are, and yes, even their weaknesses. And of course, they will learn the physical skills they need to play the game. When teaching, Dr. Austerman advises that you should first highlight what your child did well. Then employ the “ask-tell-ask” model of teaching. First ask your child what he or she struggled with. Then make an observation of one or two things they could improve on. Finally, have she or he tell you what they can do to work on those areas. Always, praise your child for the things that they do right or they may begin to see the weaknesses first and lose the desire to learn.

3. Remember safety
With every sport comes the potential for injury. Kids are running, jumping, throwing, kicking and colliding with each other and with their sports equipment. A big part of playing sports is about experiencing the physicality of movement and becoming more coordinated – with one’s self and through interactions with others. Help your child to pay attention by learning good technique, wearing the appropriate safety equipment, and watching for their teammates and the ball.

4. Be patient with your child
Everything in life takes time to learn. We get better with practice and some things come more naturally than others. Sports can give you and your child the chance to learn more patience. Parents say some of the most gratifying experiences they have when watching their child play a sport is when they have a great play or do something new that they’ve never been able to do before. Practice may not make perfect, but it will bring improvement. Celebrate the little victories as well as the big ones just the same. Your child will want to build off of each skill he or she learns. Ultimately they will learn to have resilience in the face of adversity. 

5. Volunteer to help the team
Volunteer your own services when you can. Bring or bake something for the team’s bake sale. Sell raffle tickets at the games. If you can, volunteer as an assistant coach or help to manage equipment or uniforms. You will be performing a needed service for your child’s team and you’ll get to know more parents. This will also teach your child the importance of volunteerism and helping out.

“Sports are a great vehicle for teaching socialization skills, acting with graciousness, and respect,” Dr. Austerman concludes. “And your children will model your behavior either good or bad.”

By following these pointers, you will help your child to have a healthy and enjoyable experience with sports. They will learn lessons they can take with them into adulthood and every aspect of their lives.

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