How to be the Parent Kids Want at Their Games

Youth sports should be a fun outlet for kids to learn new skills, make friends, and hopefully foster the long-term love of sports. As a parent, your role in this journey can make or break a child’s experience. There’s a fine line between supporting your youth athletes and pressuring them. Understanding where you stand can be the difference between encouraging them to play sports long-term, or causing them to burn out and give up playing at an early age.

4 Habits of a Supportive Sports Parent:

1. Encouraging Progress Over Results

Supportive parents praise their children for hard work, dedication, and improvement, regardless of the outcome of a game. This outlook helps children develop a growth mindset, where they value effort and resilience over innate talent.

2. Emphasizing Fun First

Youth sports should be enjoyable first and foremost. When parents focus on fun, children are more likely to develop a lifelong passion for sports. To be clear, this doesn’t mean the score should not be kept! Winning and being competitive is part of the fun, however it should not be the main focus of youth sports as the goal is not to win, but to enjoy what you’re doing.

3. Fostering Independence

Supportive parents allow their children to take ownership of their sports experience. They encourage their kids to set their own goals and make decisions about their participation. Meaning, supportive parents let their kids choose what sport they would like to play, and what level they’re comfortable competing at.

It’s important to let children decide which sport THEY enjoy playing, not which sport YOU enjoy. It’s great to show your kids what you love, but if they don’t have a desire to follow in your footsteps, understand it’s ok for them to forge their own path in a different sport that they enjoy.

4. Providing Emotional Support

Being there for the highs and lows, offering a listening ear, and learning to communicate in a positive manner helps children feel secure and valued regardless of their performance.

Phrases for Supportive Parenting

Here are some phrases that can help parents support their youth athletes:

      • Encourage Effort: “I’m proud of how hard you worked today,” or “You gave it your best effort, and that’s what matters.”
      • Emphasize Enjoyment: “Did you have fun out there?” or “I love seeing you playing soccer with your friends!”
      • Celebrate Improvement: “You’ve improved so much since last season,” or “I can see how much you’ve been working on your jump shot.”
      • Provide Comfort: “It’s okay to feel disappointed; it’s all part of the game,” or “I’m here for you no matter what.”

4 Types of Pressure to Avoid

On the opposite end of the spectrum, parents that pressure their kids often create a stressful environment without realizing it. This unintentional stress on young athletes can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a loss of interest in sports. Here are four ways to avoid adding extra pressure to your athlete’s world:

1. Do Not Focus on Winning

Avoid prioritizing results over progress. This often makes children feel that their worth is tied to their performance. This can lead to anxiety, burnout, and fear of failure as they will constantly feel like they are disappointing you.

2. Do Not Become a Sideline Coach

Parents that add pressure are usually the ones screaming and correcting their child’s technique from the bleachers. They also tend to yell over coaches and tell their child to ignore their coach as they disagree with their training routines or game strategies. This can undermine a child’s sense of autonomy, as well as confuse them and create a poor relationship between them and their coach due to no fault of their own. If you’re going to scream on the sidelines, scream positive phrases, not corrections! 

3. Do Not Criticize Mistakes

Instead, you should view mistakes as learning opportunities. Harshly criticizing errors can erode a child’s confidence and discourage them from taking risks or trying new things. It can also push them away from the sport they love and cause them to quit at an early age.

4. Do Not Set Unrealistic Expectations

All parents have high hopes for their kids, but hopes are different than expectations. As a parent, avoid pushing expectations on your child that are beyond their current capabilities. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and disappointment.

Age-appropriate instruction is an important part of a youth athlete’s development. If you try to teach a 3-year-old how to juggle a soccer ball between their knees, they will become discouraged and frustrated very quickly because 3-year-olds don’t typically have that coordination yet. If you push a child to perform outside of their age-appropriate skillset, they could not only lose interest in the sport, but they will also be at an increased risk of injury.

The same goes for pushing expectations for scholarships or becoming a pro at a young age. Kids don’t have the ability to reach that level for another 10+ years. It’s great to support their dreams, but creating that expectation and pushing them into it will quickly push them away from sports.

Avoiding Pressuring Language

These are some examples of phrases you may hear from pressuring parents and want to avoid:

      • Avoid Focusing on Winning: “You need to win this game,” or “Why didn’t you score more points?”
      • Avoid Criticizing Mistakes: “You should have done better,” or “Why did you swing at that pitch, it was clearly too high?”
      • Avoid Unrealistic Expectations: “You should be the best player on the team,” or “You need to make varsity in 4 years, try harder next practice.”

If you do these things or find yourself using these phrases, you may be putting too much pressure on your youth athlete. Though it may seem harmless in the moment, it can lead to long-term struggles with mental health, burnout, and interest in sports.

Be the Parent Kids Want at Their Games

By consciously choosing supportive language and behaviors, parents can create a safe and positive environment for their youth athletes. This fosters resilience, confidence, and a lifelong love of sports. Supporting rather than pressuring your young athlete is key to their overall development and happiness. Be the supportive parent kids want at their games, and you’ll be the parent they want involved as they continue to grow and improve in sports and in life!

Coach jumping with excitement!