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Parenting your Young Athlete

"Your child's success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting."  author unknown

The top list of parental DO'S:

-Do reinforce the values we teach at camp at home.  Even if your child stops playing tennis someday, the values of sportsmanship, responsibility, perseverance and healthy lifestyle choices are relevant for any sport and activity!  

- Do remember that your child is constantly seeking your approval! Remember to regularly say: "I love watching you play". Check out this video for a good explanation of how these 5 simple words can mean so much to your athlete. You can also check out the Changing the Game Project online for more thought-provoking advice.

-Do assume the role of chauffeur.  Especially in regards to the college recruiting process, a parent's involvement shouldn't extend much farther than driving your child to events.

The top list of parental DON'TS:

-Don't regularly watch your child practice/participate in camp or practice.  You child needs independence to truly grow in a sport.  Check out this article for some humor and a better articulation of my point.

- Don't pay for the end-of-season trophy if you can avoid it - unless your child truly earned it for winning something tangible  (not just participating). As you and I know, sometimes our best is not enough. This is an important lesson to learn at a young age and can encourage a strong work ethic in our kids, rather than complacency.  This article explores both sides of the debate.

-Don't rush in to fix a problem for your child (like a disagreement with a coach) -  Provide guidance but let them take care of any issue on their own.  This article is targeted to parents of college students leaving home for the first time. But, the tips are valid - particularly when Professor Duke suggests "moving like your feet are in molasses: "

-Don't be selfish - Your job as a parent is to provide support to your child. Nothing more, nothing less.  The article pasted below summarizes how serving others supports your child more than anything!

“Serving others in your child’s sports”

By Sports Psychologist Jerry Lynch

OK. So you want your child to be happy and healthy. You want your child to excel. You want your child to experience as much success as possible on the court, field or track. Good for you! There’s no problem there. The more important question is how will you go about doing this? Do you know what the very best way is to insure that your child has a happy, healthy and successful sports experience? Do you know the “do’s” and “don’ts” of creating a champion in your home? It all boils down to a Tao principle: Selflessness. You have to make sure that you are able to steer as clear as possible from the natural urge to be selfish when it comes to your child’s sport.

Now I’m not referring to the more common meanings of selfish that the word usually conjures up. That kind of selfish behavior is overt and blatant. The selfishness that I’m speaking about is far subtler than that. It’s the self-centeredness that comes from being too invested in your child’s athletic success. It’s that powerful inner need that YOU feel to have your child win/excel no matter what. When your feelings about your child’s performance become too important, when they begin to eclipse your son or daughter’s own interests and investment in the sport, then you have lost your perspective and, as a result, you’ll lose touch with your child’s needs and well-being.

The kind of selfishness I refer to here masquerades as care and concern for your child. You look like you’re doing all these wonderful things for your child. You’re getting her extra lessons. You’re paying for advanced camps and training. You are spending gobs of your own time and energy working out with him. You’ve even paid for a speed and conditioning coach. With all you’ve invested it’s very easy for you to say, “Look at all I’ve done for him/her.” But the more important question here is, who are you really doing all of this good stuff for?    

Are you really serving your child when you do this? Are you contributing to his/her personal happiness and love for the sport? Are you giving a true gift of love, no strings attached or is this somehow a business deal that you’ve made where you expect a good return on your investment. When you directly or indirectly remind your son or daughter how much you’ve done for them, are you being selfless and serving them? When you show your disappointment at their poor play or freely offer your criticism, who are you doing this for? Understand that you are only serving yourself when you respond to your child’s mistakes and failures in this way. You may protest and say, “Yes, but I’m just helping him get tougher, faster and better by doing this. Besides, isn’t that my job as an interested, loving parent?”

When it comes to your children’s sports, this isn’t your job. Your job is to be unconditionally loving, supportive, kind and understanding. Your job is to be an appropriate role model. It is not to push, criticize or attempt to forcefully mold your son or daughter into a winner the way that you think they should be. This is not in their best interests and is certainly not serving them. One of the more common blind spots that we have as parents is to impose our model of the world directly onto our children. We tend to project how we would be if we were in their situation and then we expect them to act the way we would. For example, “If I had your talent, then I’d be practicing 24/7, 365.” “Remember son, I know you won the silver medal, but I watched that match and there were several things you did wrong. You never want to settle for second place,” (at least that’s how I run my business). “When I was your age, I’d be getting extra help every chance I could.”

Serving your child in his/her sport is about quietly listening to and observing him/her and being willing to follow your son or daughter’s lead. Let them have responsibility for and control over the sport. Let them decide where they want to go and the goals that they want to accomplish. Let them determine how much and how hard they want to practice. In the process, your job is to supportively facilitate things for them without your own agenda getting in the way.

Serve the team that your child plays on. Help the coach and the other players. Distance yourself from the playing time issue. If you get overly caught up with your son or daughter’s PT, which is very easy to do, you are no longer thinking about the good of the team, you are thinking about your own needs and those of your child. Help your child understand that on every winning team, every player has a role to play. You might not like the role, but for the team to be successful, every player must do that job as assigned by the coach to the very best of his/her ability. If PT is a serious issue, then help your child figure out a constructive way to approach the coach to learn what he/she might do to improve.

Along these same lines, serve the team by being a good team player yourself. If your child has to sit the bench, help him/her develop a positive attitude about it. Do not fuel the easy-to-fall into selfishness of putting down the players that are starting in front of your son or daughter. In the stands be sure that you cheer for everyone on the team, especially when your child is sitting on the bench. To be fair, sometimes this is very difficult to do as a parent. However, it’s a must if you want to walk the way of a champion.

Serve the coach by supporting him/her. Don’t bad-mouth him/her to your child or other parents. Support team functions. Volunteer your time when possible. Educate new parents to the team’s policies and the coach’s ways. Please understand that I am not advocating that you adopt this stance if the coach is extremely negative or abusive. That’s a completely different situation where your child’s psychological and emotional needs far outweigh the coach’s needs and wants.

Finally, understand that taking the higher road and walking the way of a champion as a parent is a very difficult path to follow. Being human you will slip and fall many times. What counts, however are not the slips and falls, but how often and quickly you can get back on your feet following the right way.