Human nature dictates that we look ahead and project where our children might be in their sports journey in five or ten years. There is constant noise around us with questions like “how much should a child play and at what age should they start?”, “should we pay for private coaching/training?”, and “when should a young athlete join a travel league?” These are questions for parents to consider and answer. However, as we consider these questions, I believe we should ask ourselves one more important question, “Do I Focus on the Now in my young athlete’s sports experiences?”
The years that kids play youth sports go so quickly and after these years pass we miss the weekly rituals like opening our lawn chairs and sitting in a bright Saturday morning sun watching our young athletes find joy in playing their chosen sports. If you are a parent new to youth sports, I have a challenge for you: Focus on the Now. To keep this in perspective, try these three things when you are a proud spectator: enjoy watching your child’s growth and development, encourage your child’s effort and competitiveness, and relax and find joy in watching your child play.
ENJOY WATCHING YOUR CHILD’S GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
While it is tempting to project how good your child will be in the future based on what they are doing in the moment, avoid doing this to your young athlete and yourself. Projecting creates pressure and negative tension for the athlete, while this causes you to miss the enjoyment in being a young athlete’s parent. Children grow and change quickly; the tallest/strongest kid at age 8 may be just like every other kid by age 13. In my experiences, it is difficult to project how good a young athlete is going to be in the future because we do not know whether they will continue to develop physically or have the desire and work ethic needed to hone their talents. To that end, if you have a kid who lacks some natural abilities, avoid making any broad judgments too early because they may develop a passion and work ethic for sports that will move them ahead of the naturally gifted athletes. It is an unproductive use of your time and energy to focus on projecting where your young athlete will be at any point in the future.
Commit yourself to watching your child learn and grow each day in the sports they play. When you are at a competition, pay attention to the subtle changes you see in both the skills and attention they give to the competition. The younger your child, the bigger the improvements they will make; as they get older, the changes will be less noticeable yet equally as gratifying. Putting your focus on their growth and development takes the pressure off and allows you to enjoy watching your young athlete compete!
ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD’S EFFORT AND COMPETITIVENESS
When we put an emphasis on the results in youth athletics, we miss a big opportunity to train young athletes to maximize themselves in two important actions: Effort and Competitiveness.
It is important when competing in any game or contest that a score is kept; without a score, it is not a competition. However, the emphasis for young athletes needs to be on their effort and competitiveness, not the final score or result. Expectations are going to differ based on the age of the athletes. When athletes are young, effort and competitiveness should be based on them having fun playing, enjoying being part of something with their teammates, and trying new skills whether they are successful or not. As they get older this focus on effort and competitiveness should include how hard they play and how much time and effort they are willing to put into improvement outside of team practices. The one thing that should stay consistent is parents’ expectations should be based on the young athletes giving their best effort and competitive spirit to the sports they are playing.
RELAX AND FIND JOY IN WATCHING YOUR CHILD PLAY
The best part of being a parent of a young athlete is we get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the process. We get to let the coaches take care of the training and teaching. As parents, our role is to provide the opportunities for our kids and to be there to give them a high five and a hug after the game. Is this going to be easy to do? NO! We all want to help our children excel and when we see them struggling, our instinct is to come to their rescue, give advice, or confront the coach about what we perceive they are doing wrong.
Good news parents, the best way to support your young athletes and their development is to relax and find joy in the process! Let your kids enjoy playing sports and let sports be theirs to embrace and be accountable. When you are watching your young athlete play, relax and enjoy!!
A PARTING THOUGHT
As you start your journey into the role of youth sports parent, make sure you take the time to soak in every moment as the time flies by quicker than you would like. The author Gretchen Rubin wrote, “The days are long, but the years are short.” When you actively watch your children develop and grow, encourage their effort and competitiveness, and find joy in watching them play, you will become a sports parent who is Focused on the Now. With this philosophy, you will give your kids the best chance to use sports for learning and development!