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Do’s and Don’ts for Parents of Young Athletes

Kay Porter, Ph.D.
Porter Performance Systems

Probably since the beginning of sport history there have been parents who were enthusiastic, shouting, supportive, critical, loving, pushing, caring, and demanding, on the sidelines or in the stands.  Most of the time, this is crucial to the performance, good or bad, of the child’s athletic endeavor.  The following are powerful DO’s and DON’Ts that will assist parents  in supporting their child in the most positive and beneficial way.  Coaches may be interested in giving this list to the parents of their athletes.

The DO’S

  • Allow your child to be interested and want to play whatever sport he or she chooses.  Provide the opportunity of many choices and support his/her choice even if it is not yours.  Support your child’s choice to play NO sport when he/she is the most comfortable with that option.
  • Teach your child to respect his/her coach.  Do this primarily by showing respect to the coach yourself.  It is vital to the child’s progress and performance that he or she listen to and trust the coach’s advice and instructions.
  • Be willing to let your child make his/her own mistakes and learn from them.  When your child makes a mistake, ask what they think they could have done differently, what they learned from the experience, and if they would like any feedback (not criticism or blame) from you (such as what you saw, and what you think they might have done differently, and what you think they might have learned)….
  • Be interested and supportive, light and playful, understanding and open-hearted.  Be accepting and tolerant of your child’s learning process and her/his physical abilities.  Acknowledge and enjoy your child’s participation and successes….even the small ones.
  • Model flexibility of your own opinions.  Be willing to be wrong and move off your position.  Listen to the other side of the situation and let go of the need to be right or in control.

The DON’Ts

  • Don’t try to relive your youth through your child.  Just because you wanted to be, or were, a hero on the football field or in gymnastics does not mean THAT sport will be your child’s choice.  Accept that your child may not excel in that or any sport.
  • Don’t blame the equipment, coach, other players, referees or even the weather if your child or the team does not do well or win.  Blaming others teaches non-accountability to kids.  They do not learn to look at what they could have done differently, or learn from their mistakes if they learn to blame others.
  • Don’t push, push, push….Children who are pushed beyond their capabilities may lose their self-confidence, become resistant and resentful toward their parent, become unsure of themselves and their abilities, and may stop trying.  They may also exhibit a disturbance in eating and/or sleeping habits.
  • Don’t expect perfection or tie your ego or image to your child’s performance.  Perfectionism is a very hard expectation to live up to.  Laying guilt on a child because “their performance made YOU look bad,” is highly destructive.  Your child is NOT responsible for your ego or your reputation in the community.

Remembering this simple list may assist parents in remembering that youth sports are to be enjoyed by children as well as parents.  Most children play sports because they have fun playing.  When sports become work and drudgery, they lose interest and some of the joy in growing up.  Remembering to be a little less serious about life helps all of us to enjoy athletic competition.

Excerpted from THE MENTAL ATHLETE (Human Kinetics, 2003)