One of the scariest parts of becoming a parent and watching your child grow up is having to give up control of your child’s life as they get older. We all know that our kids are constantly fighting to gain some semblance of control over their life, always pushing the boundaries and testing the waters in an attempt to learn what is acceptable, and what is not. From the one year old wanting to hold their own bottle or spoon, to the teenager pushing for a later curfew, our kids always seek control and degrees of autonomy. As parents, we accept (sometimes grudgingly) that we have to continuously grant them more as time goes on.
When we relate the need for Control to youth sports, we should recognize that athletics is potentially the perfect place for them to define themselves in their own self image (I am a hustler, I am creative, I am energetic, I am a great teammate). They can be exposed to new experiences, such as trying new sports, or different positions in a chosen sport. It is also an incredible opportunity for kids to challenge themselves, be it learning new skills in soccer, skiing a steeper hill, or learning to dribble a basketball with their weak hand. We need to find ways to give them control over their experience.
Obviously, the age of your child will determine just how much control they can be given. We can give very young children control by taking note of their interest in certain sports, then spending time with them watching and learning about that sport. We can ask them if they want to try playing it, and then sign them up. They now have some ownership in the sport they play.
Let Them Go
Once you are confident that your child is in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment, one of the most important things you will ever do as the parent of a young athlete is to let them go and let their sports experience belong to them. be a fan, be a parent, but recognize that the sports experience belongs to them. Many parents live out their unfulfilled sports dreams through their children, and never release their child. If you find yourself saying “we scored 3 goals today” or “we struck out 10 batters,” chances are you have not let your child go. Let them games belong to them!
Set Goals…and Accept Their Goals
One of the most powerful things you can do for your child is to recognize his or her goals and reasons for playing a sport. In almost every case of ‘destructive’ sports parenting that I have seen, it almost always came down to this; the child’s goals and the parents’ goals were completely incompatible, and mom or dad refuesed to accept their child’s goals.
First of all, try to set process goals, and not outcome goals. Focus on the training, the work it takes to get better, the time committed to improvement, and not the outcome of games or events. These are things that are within an athletes control. Make them timely, and make them measurable.
Next, accept your child’s goals! If your goals for your daughter this soccer season are to get a college scholarship, make the national select team, and score 30 times this season, while your daughter’s goals are to have fun, play with friends, and stay in shape, that abyss will swallow your relationship with your child. You must accept her goals, and while you may counsel her on aiming higher, you cannot force your goals to be hers when they are this far apart.
How to Push Your Athlete
One of the most difficult situations we encounter as adults is determining when to give our kids a push in the right direction, and when to back off and accept their decisions, or their inaction. A push at the right time can be the springboard to high achievement and happiness. A push at the wrong time, in the wrong way, may lead to disappointment and resentment from your child. One thing is for certain, though. It is our job as parents to push our children when they become complacent, to urge them to keep trying when they are unsuccessful at first, and to help propel them through times of difficulty when we know achievement is just around the corner.
Push your child toward their goals, and not yours. Do this by accepting their goals, and reminding them ofTHEIR commitments. Then, be there to give them a gentle nudge in the right direction. Be aware of the ‘red flags’ that we are pushing them in a negative way, such as taking credit for their achievement, or taking ownership of our children’s sports. Most importantly, push your kids on things they have control over – process goals – rather than focusing solely on successful outcomes. Kids can control their effort, their commitment, their diligence and their emotions, and as parents if we focus our pushing on those areas we will not strain our relationship with our children.
The Ride Home
When athletes of all ages and abilities are asked what was their least favorite sports moment, the most common answer is ‘after the game and the conversation on the ride home.’ Emotions are high, disappointment, frustration, and both physical and emotional exhaustion are at the forefront for both player and parent. Yet many parents choose this moment to confront their child about a play, criticize them for having a poor game, and chastise their child, their teammates, their coach, and their opponents. There could not be a less teachable moment in your child’s sporting life then the ride home, yet it is often the moment that well intentioned parents decide to do all of their teaching.
Many children have indicated that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team. Ask yourself whether you are quieter after a hard loss, or happier and more buoyant after a big win. Do you tend to criticize and dissect your child’s performance after a loss, but overlook many of the same mistakes because he or she won? If you see that you are doing this, even though your intentions may be well meaning, your child’s perceptions of your words and actions can be quite detrimental.
Be a source of confidence and comfort in situations such as when your child has played well in a loss, when your child played poorly, and especially when your child has played very little or not at all. Even then, it is critically important that you do not bring the game up for them, as uninvited conversations may cause resentment in children. Give them the time and space to digest the game and recover physically and emotionally from a match. When your child is ready to bring the game up and talk about it, be a quiet and reflective listener, and make sure they can see the big picture and not just the outcome of a single event. Help them work through the game, and facilitate their growth and education by guiding them toward their own answers (i.e. kids learn a lot when they realize “You know what, we had a bad week of practice and coach told us this was coming”).
Kids need sports to learn how to get along and work with others, develop a strong work ethic, build self confidence, and learn to succeed and fail with humility and dignity. They need Control, and you are the one who can give it to them. Try following the steps outlined above, and give your child some control over their athletic experience. Chances are you will find you have a happier and more committed athlete.
All information from https://changingthegameproject.com/ please check out their website for more information and resources