Age 4. That first time your son or daughter takes the dive into the world of sports. Soccer, T-Ball, Basketball, Flag Football, anything. You may think you know what you’re doing as a parent as this journey starts. But really, you haven’t a clue. Not only do you have no clue how you’re going to guide your children through this journey, you can’t even begin to guess how they are going to react and perform as they enter the world of competition. Ten years ago, my timid, daisy-picking child took the soccer field for the first time and hyperventilated from the excitement and exertion of competition. Rushing back to the present, it’s easy to see the trial & error, missed steps, overreactions, and lessons learned along the journey. And like so many other things in life, when you finally have a grip on it (what is beneficial, what is healthy, what has value vs what is worthless), you discover that you are no longer doing it anymore. It is too late to put into practice all that you have learned on your journey. Hopefully this list will provide at least some value to some of those people in the opening stages of the crazy world of youth sports….before it’s too late.
1) Never pass up a chance at home to pass baseball or football, shoot baskets, or kick a soccer ball with your kids. And don’t wait for them to ask. They will rarely turn down your offer as long as you “play” with them instead of “coaching” them.
2) Don’t speak critically of coaches in the presence of children. Kids’ prospects of having fun and improving are crippled when they are convinced that their coach is clueless.
3) Our kids aren’t gonna be the next Lebron James or Peyton Manning. Lighten up. When we cultivate a fun experience and a love of the game at younger ages, they have a greater chance of developing their own high level of dedication as they grow older.
4) Coaches aren’t perfect or brilliant or perfectly brilliant. If they were, they wouldn’t be coaching our kids. Usually they are volunteering for a job that nobody else wanted. If they’re paid, they’re making about a $1 an hour for their time and effort. Be patient and forgiving of their mistakes. Set realistic expectations.
5) Look for opportunities to teach your kids the importance of effort, attitude, and good practice habits, as well as being responsible for their own success/fun/outcomes. As kids progress through middle school and high school years, the main thing that separates one player (or team) from another is A) how much time they spent developing skills on their own time and B) how much effort they choose to put into organized practice time.
6) Bite your tongue until it bleeds. Don’t tell your kids what they did wrong or what they could do better…..unless they ask. This rule applies especially to the car ride after a game. Tell them what they did well. Tell them how you love to watch them play.
7) Never forget how much your approval means to them. Cheer and encourage every chance you get. It’s a miserable experience for kids who seem to play to please their parents…..when they begin to feel they can’t possibly please them no matter what they do. They will never have a perfect game or practice. Don’t make them feel like they should.
8) Don’t coach from the sidelines or bleachers. Kids’ minds are blown by trying to play a fast-paced game (that they possibly don’t understand yet) while they are trying to sort out whether to listen to their coach or their dad or mom. Kids learn best in game situations simply by playing, not by over-coaching. Practice time is instruction time.
9) Teach them to not make excuses. Never blame a referee. Quality of refereeing is almost always better than the quality of play. Critical talk of referees in front of children is quickly interpreted to mean that a loss is somebody else’s fault. (So talk about the refs when the kids aren’t around and choose your outbursts wisely….we all have them)
10) Winning isn’t the most important thing, but doing your best is. Kids have to know that it’s never ok to half-way do anything. It’s not a good idea to ever tell kids they played bad, but sometimes it’s necessary to find the right words to let them know that their level of effort could have been better.
Obviously, I have learned all these things the hard way (by screwing them up). So if anybody has more to share, I would love to hear them since I am still learning.
Oh yeah, MOST IMPORTANT ONE- for extra points
11) Every game isn’t the end of the world. Watch, cheer, encourage…………..and enjoy the funnest years of your life. It will be over too soon and then you’ll be back at home , bored and looking for the Beverly Hillbillies on Netflix.