Being a youth sport parent is more stressful than it’s ever been. As parents, we have great vision for what our children can achieve and it can feel as though there’s a daunting path between where they are and where they want to be. Many parents, often with the best of intentions, begin to fill in as “manager”, “coach” and even “agent.”
Unfortunately, this approach can cause a lot of friction between parent and athlete, making the whole experience incredibly stressful for everyone. This stress can impact parent-child relationships, game time performance, and even contribute to burn-out and eventual quitting.
Because we don’t have a “sport parent playbook” it can be difficult to navigate these waters with so much at stake.
Here are some research-based best practices for sport parents:
1. Let Your Child’s Motivation Lead The Way
A 2011 study found that perceived parental pressure was a significant factor in increasing anxiety in young players. Allowing your child’s drive (motivation) to set and pursue goals gives them a sense of control, improves commitment, and gives them the life experience to navigate the inevitable ebb and flow of motivation. It will be a bumpy ride, but will allow them to grow into the athlete they want to be.
2. Prioritize Fun Over Winning
The same study found that the more emphasis that was put on learning and enjoyment (vs. winning and outcomes) athletes experienced less anxiety and they actually performed better. It’s easy to forget that fun should be the #1 reason to invest your time, energy and money into your sport. This is such a simple idea, but so hard to put into practice in today’s professional model of youth sports.
Key questions to ask your athlete:
- “What did you learn today?”
- “What was the best part of practice (or game) today?”
- “What did you do well today?”
3. Let The Coach Do The Coaching
The role of the coach and the role of the parent are and should be very different. Several studies have revealed that one of the most stressful times for young athletes is the car ride home after the game.
Play-by-play performance analysis by the parent is often dreaded and even confusing for the player. A great question for the ride home is simply, “Are you hungry?” This question keeps you, the parent, in your supportive role and allows the player to decompress from their game experience and start the recovery process.
This journey is not easy. For parents or athletes. Never forget that the ultimate goal is to raise confident, independent kids who are ready to navigate the world on their own. Giving them some freedom to navigate their sport experience is an excellent opportunity to practice decision-making, self-care and learning how to stay committed to goals – all behaviors that will pay long term dividends.
Could your child benefit from mental training? Consider Mental Mastery – the new online course for youth athletes.