As sports parents, we play an important role in what our children take from their sports experiences. I believe it is imperative that our children’s journeys through the competitive process are about our children learning and developing through participation in sports. We need to avoid negatively impacting these journeys and let our children experience the successes and struggles as they present themselves, holding ourselves to a high standard in our thoughts, words, and behaviors. Thus, I have developed a 7-point list of commitments entitled “How to Be a High Performing Youth Sports Parent” to address ways that we can intentionally focus our thoughts, words, and behaviors in a way that I believe will guide us to be more effective sports parents. In this blog, I will address commitment #1.
Parents, we are the leaders of our families. Our children look to us for guidance on how they should interpret the world and determine what values are important. This includes our children’s perception of the importance of team and how they relate their role to team success. When I witness young athletes displaying self-centered actions, it is often the parents or other adult role models in their lives modeling this self-centered mindset. When we focus on individual success ahead of team success, our children are more likely to find it difficult to embrace a team first mindset.
Commitment #1 – I will fully embrace a team first mindset.
I am going to address three areas in this blog where I believe we can immediately display a team first mindset. The first is to avoid openly expressing negativity about coaches to our children. When we speak negatively of a coach and question the decisions the coach is making, then we send a strong message of disrespect for the coach. Our children work closely with their coaches and mutual respect is an important part of a player/coach relationship. As sports parents, we need to encourage our children to work and communicate with their coaches, always emphasizing what is best for the team.
Second, we need to use social media responsibly. Social media outlets are a great place to highlight team success and share what our children are accomplishing in sports. However, we need to place the emphasis on team success and let other people (coaches, teammates, scouts, clubs, schools) highlight what our kids are achieving as individuals. After someone else places the original post highlighting what our children are doing, then sharing/retweeting on social media is appropriate.
Lastly, I have witnessed sports parents paying their children for scoring points in a basketball game, goals in a soccer game, and getting hits in a baseball game. While this might provide extra motivation to a young athlete, it also sends a message to the athlete to think of themselves before team and encourages them to not make the best play for team success. Often the best play in soccer is to maintain possession and involve teammates in trying to get a better shot, in basketball it is looking to make the extra pass so your teammate gets a higher percentage shot rather than forcing a low percentage shot, and in baseball it does not take into account the importance of plays such as a sacrifice fly or sacrifice bunt. I do not like the concept of paying young athletes for positive outcomes because it places the focus on results rather than process, fundamentals, and consistent improvement. However, if a financial incentive is something you want to provide your child, then I recommend paying them based on team success and for making the right fundamental plays whether or not the outcome is positive. Often in youth sports, the correct action or decision does not lead to positive outcomes. Yet, if the athlete learns to make the right play when they are young, it will lead to greater success as they develop and play at a higher level.
Boston Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens has spoken often about the importance of everyone who is part of a team or organization pulling in the same direction. In youth/high school sports that includes the parents as well. Ask coaches and they will be able to share stories with you of the parents who have derailed team success with their self-centered approach, including but not limited to approaching/contacting the coach to complain after a game the team wins (not appropriate at any time but extremely egregious when this comes after a win). There may be no more blatant example of self before team actions by parents than when complaints come to coaches when a team is having success.
Parents, consider the lessons your children will learn when you commit to live with a team first mindset. Imagine how powerful a team can be if the parents support the goals and direction of the team and the athletes commit to following the same team first mindset.
Sports parents, I ask you to join me in committing to embrace a team first mindset and to show support for your children’s teammates, coaches, and teams.
When you do you will be taking actions that “make competition matter”!