New Year’s Resolution for the Sports Parent: Take a Step Back

 It is a new year, which means a fresh start . . . new goals and new commitments. According to my very brief, nonscientific Internet search, the most common resolutions in 2018 were to eat healthier and save more money. Another quick Google search told me that more than 80 percent of resolutions fail by February 1 and a mere 8 percent manage to make it the whole year.

One of the most common reasons resolutions fail is the popular “all-or-nothing” approach toward this annual tradition. “Resolutioners” often times feel a sense of failure with the first inevitable slip up and then react by throwing the entire plan out the window. Experts suggest making small, incremental changes rather than huge, cold-turkey, do-or-die resolutions.

If you are the resolution-making type, here is one worth making—and keeping—for 2019.

ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO OWN HIS OR HER ATHLETIC EXPERIENCE.

This sounds big. And broad. And hard.

Let’s look at some specific things we can do to better support our young athletes this year.

Embrace your role as “cheerleader” when it comes to your child’s athletic experience.

Celebrate hard work! Notice I didn’t say celebrate “victory.” Celebrate the effort! Of course, we cheer for wins and great plays, but our grandest applause should be reserved for things like work ethic, respect for teammates and coaches, punctuality, honoring commitments, and working to be the best player he or she can be. Cheering for your athlete and showing them unconditional love and support is your number one responsibility as a sports parent.

Resist the urge to discuss mistakes with your child after a game or practice.

An alarming 75 percent of youth athletes quit before middle school. When asked why they chose to leave the game, the number one answer: “the car ride home.” If your child makes a mistake, the last thing they want to do is get in the car and relive the experience. If you are headed home and trying to decide between bringing up a mistake made on the field or saying nothing at all, say nothing at all.

Other ideas for the car ride home . . . Did you have fun?, Did you learn anything today?, or my personal favorite . . . just say, I really love watching you play/swim/run/work hard.

Never second-guess or discuss coaching decisions in front of your child.

Questioning the coach in front of your child is never a good idea. It causes a breakdown in the coach-athlete relationship and breeds a sense of entitlement in the athlete. As a general rule, parents should respect and support coaches in their role unless there is a safety concern when it comes to the physical and/or emotional well-being of the athlete. Remember: Parents, your role is cheerleader. You do not have a say in coaching decisions. You may have an opinion, but your registration/athletic fee does not buy you the right to vocalize that opinion in a way that undermines the team or the coach’s authority.

As both a coach and the parent of young athletes, I follow a strict rule for myself. If I am not the coach for a particular sport, I keep my mouth shut. It isn’t always easy, but it really is that simple.

Resist the urge to “rescue” your athlete.

Motivational speaker, Alistair McCaw, articulates why this is so very important: “Stepping in to help or defend your kid only robs them of the opportunity to build grit, courage, and accountability. Their odds of success later in life increase when you step back and allow them to deal with some of life’s hard knocks and challenges.”

Sports have the potential to teach many lessons. Some lessons are fun . . . some are not. All are invaluable to the athlete. Give your child the opportunity to fail and then give them the space to work through the emotions that come along with failure. Many of the world’s best athletes point to a time of disappointment as the catalyst for what gave them the drive they needed to become great. Don’t stand in the way of that for your young athlete.

As we move into a new year, let’s resolve to support our athletes in ways that allow them to own the experience. Our responsibilities are to offer support, cheer, and—of course—provide transportation—ha! We had our chance to play so it is their turn now. Take a step back and enjoy this special time in your child’s life because it won’t last forever.