Tips for Talking to Your Young Athlete
Each year, approximately 60 million children participate in an organized sport. Children are starting sports at an increasingly young age and about 27% of children participate in one sport year-round. Sports can teach our children vital life lessons, encourage a healthy lifestyle and create a passion that can last a lifetime. But sports can also be a source of tension if not approached in a healthy manner.
Boys Town offers these tips for supporting the young athletes in your life.
Follow Your Child's Lead
Each child will want something different from sports. Some may just want to try something new, others may want to spend time with their friends and some will want to compete (and win) at the highest level possible.
As parents, we want what's best for our children, so it can be easy to slip into the role of decision maker. Instead, follow your child's lead and ask what they want to get out of playing sports.
As many parents know, their child's interests can change quickly. Especially at a young age, children will want to try out different sports to find one that matches their interests and goals. Encourage them to try out a variety of sports!
It is natural to be disappointed that your child no longer wants to play a sport that you like, or even played yourself. If your child asks to change sports, be supportive and talk through your child's reasons for wanting to change.
Dealing with Disappointment or Loss
One of the hardest parts of sports is losing or, at higher levels, not making the team at all. The automatic reaction of parents is to try to fix the situation or cheer their child up. Instead, spend time validating your child's emotions. This will help them process their emotions and strengthen the relationship between you and your child through improved communication.
After taking time to listen to and validate your child, make sure they know that their self-worth, and your pride/love, are not tied to any sport or team.
Children model our words and actions. Because of this, it is vital that we model respectful behavior for our children.
We are human, and because of that our emotions can run high. (Emotions aren't a bad thing. It just means you are invested in your child!) Sporting events offer a great opportunity to show your child that you can be excited, passionate and competitive while also being respectful.
Keep comments 100% positive and focused on your child's team – not the opponents. Remember, no parent ever got a referee to change their mind by complaining.
Sports into Life Lessons
Sports involve hard work, commitment, cooperation and so many other skills that we want to foster in our children. Parents will approach these in different ways. Below are some tips on how you can help foster life skills in your child:
- If your child starts a sport season, encourage them to finish it.
- Be on time (or early) to practices and games.
- Encourage your child to give their best effort.
- Remind them to have a good attitude in practice and games!
- Keep them responsible for their equipment.
- Remind them to listen when the coach is talking.
- Encourage your child to always be willing to help a teammate.
Above all, being interested and involved in your child's sport will do wonders for their self-esteem and your relationship. In 20 years, your child probably won't remember the scores of their games, but they will remember you coming to their games and cheering them on. They will remember the time spent driving to and from games. They will remember how their parents made them feel.