3 Ways to be a Supportive Sports Parent

Kids excel when they know they have a strong support system behind them. Your support helps motivate them and keep them going. However, there is a fine line between support and pressure. Many of us cross that line without realizing it. One day, you might look up and think, “did I just say that?” There are several things you can do to make sure your child has fun, learns the appropriate skills, and reaches their goals without massive amounts of pressure. 

Tips for Being the Supportive Parent

1. Be respectful of coaches, refs, and players. 

Before the season, determine how involved you want to be in your child’s sport or activity. Do you want to coach or assist?  If you decide not to coach, be sure to leave the coaching to the person who did decide to volunteer their time. If you disagree with their coaching methods, address this privately and not during a game in front of everyone including your kids. 

The same goes for refs, umpires, and officials. They have a difficult job. No human is perfect, but they are doing their best to make the right calls in a split-second. They are not out to make your 10-year-old’s basketball team lose. It’s ok to disagree with a call but do so privately.

This not only shows that you’re supportive, but it sets an example for your child as well. They may begin to feel more comfortable coming to you for help as you’ve created a safe and positive environment for them. 

2. Remember, this is youth sports, not your ticket to college. 

The goal of youth sports is to have fun. Youth sports should not be seen as a stepping stone to a college scholarship. A college scholarship should be a result of having fun, learning the game, and wanting to stick with the sport long term. Only about 2% of high school athletes succeed in securing a college athletic scholarship. If your child is talented enough to be one of those athletes, it will be because they loved the game enough to stick with it through the tough practices and games. When you start pressuring your kids at a young age, you start taking the fun out of sports, and that’s when kids fall out of love with the game. That’s when you unknowingly start to push them away from the sport that they love, and that college scholarship you desperately wanted them to get, is no longer a possibility. 

Let your kids decide when they’re ready to take the next step in their sport. If they want to pursue club and travel leagues, let them do it on their own time. You’re welcome to bring up the idea and see what they think about it! But try not to force them into something they may not be interested in at a young age just because you think it will lead to that golden ticket. It’s perfectly okay to wait until their teenage years to join club leagues. In fact, waiting can decrease the chances of early burnout and overuse injuries in youth sports.

Do your best to stay grounded and stay in the present. We know paying for college is stressful, and the thought of a college scholarship taking that stress away is always in the back of your mind. But the goal of your flag football league for 7-year-olds is not getting your child a college scholarship. The goal of any youth sports league is to improve motor skills, communication skills, and character development. Try to remember that when that thought of a college scholarship starts to creep up on you. 

3. Support your kids with a parent-first mentality.

Everyone wants their kids’ dreams to come true. Many would do anything to make that happen. However, this is where support can easily turn into pressure. As much as you want your kids to be the best and succeed, you have to remember that this is just a game. Kids are not perfect. Even at the slim chance they get to play in college or the pros, they will still make mistakes. Remember, errors happen, yelling and correcting from the sidelines is not going to stop the errors from happening. 

The best thing you can do for your child is cheer them on and give them support and positive reinforcement. In other words, be the parent. Let their coach correct their techniques and improve their mental toughness. If you also happen to be their coach, remember to separate parenting and coaching so that your athlete knows you support them, but you also have to motivate them as their coach. Let their opponent be the one to psych them out and yell discouraging things. Once you cross the line from support to pressure, you become the parent coaching from the sidelines or saying things like, “Oh c’mon what was that?!” They already have that pressure in their lives from their coaches, opponents, and sometimes even themselves. They want you to be the support that they need to overcome those pressures. They don’t need another critic, they need a fan!

The weight of expectations from parents, coaches, and intrinsic factors can be a crushing burden on the shoulders of young athletes. They need someone who is there to support them and help take the weight off their shoulders- and that’s you!

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Title reads "3 ways to be a supportive parent" on the left, with a photo of a daughter hugging her dad/coach on the basketball court.