4 Ways For Parents To Get a Grip At Their Kids’ Sporting Events

Jennifer Harrison

Last week I got an email from my 6-year old daughter’s coach. He asked parents to “please stop yelling and coaching your child from the sidelines.” I secretly patted myself on the back. This time, I wasn’t one of those parents. But–I have been.

After nearly a decade of watching my oldest daughter play softball, I’ve had my own cringe worthy moments (questioning an umpire comes to mind). I needed to get a grip; so I did what any reporter does–I researched. I investigated ways to become a more well-balanced sports parent. With 70% of kids quitting sports by age 13, maybe we all need to get a grip.

[Read — Maria Shriver, “5 of My Tips for Living an Inspired Life”]

The tips below, which I gleaned from organizations and people who know more than I do about this complex subject, literally changed the way I act as a sports parent. Perhaps these tips can do the same for you?

1. Realize Scholarships Are Unlikely

About 2% of high school athletes get NCAA scholarships. If you happen to be in the 2%, the average scholarship is about $11,000. These are sobering statistics if you see youth sports as a meal ticket. Instead, enjoy the current moment, let your child’s natural love of the game, not the hope of a big (and very, very rare) payoff dictate how youth sports fits into your child’s life. It’s about their experience, not you tallying wins and pressuring them to perform.

[Also — 10 Things People Who Are Great at Relationships Do Differently]

2. Notice The Silent Ones

I’ve observed something: the silent parents may have greater chance of having successful, well rounded, child athletes. Granted, my sample size is small, my study non-scientific, but in an uncanny coincidence, the kids who seem to enjoy sports (and excel most) have parents who are stone cold quiet during the game. My own family history reflects this. My brother grew up surfing, was sponsored by age 12 and went on to compete on the pro circuit. My dad always stood silently watching my brother’s contests (no yelling, no “why didn’t you catch that wave in the first set?” type of questioning). Mike Matheny, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, who also coached kids, takes this a step further. He suggests even positive parent comments like, “You got it,” puts unnecessary pressure on kids. See for yourself, he mentions this half-way through this widely referenced letter.

[Related — 5 Tips to Help Your Kids Manage Back-to-School Stress]

3. Most Important Moment: The Ride Home

What do kids hate most about sports? Sadly, the ride home after the game, according to John O’Sullivan, Founder of Changing the Game Project. Avoid analyzing the game you just witnessed (this includes the performances of your child, their teammates and even the coach’s). This can do wonders for establishing healthier boundaries as a sports parent. Some children themselves want to discuss the game; if so, let your child steer the conversation and just listen.

4. 6 Words to Say to Your Sports Star

“I love to watch you play.” These are the only six words you need to utter. Ever. Decades of research by Bruce Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching indicate that this phrase has the most positive impact on a child athlete. I remember the first time I utilized this advice. My daughter’s softball team was up 6-0 in the championship game of a tournament. They seemed destined to win it all. They didn’t, in the last inning their opponent fought back and won. We had a two hour drive home. “I love to watch you play,” was all that needed to be said.

About the Author

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Jennifer Harrison is a reporter/producer specializing in health, lifestyle and agriculture stories. Her work has appeared on Discovery Health, HGTV, DIY Network, PBS, and in various magazines and blogs.

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