Whether your child is involved in recreational sports or competing at the highest levels, being a sports parent is challenging and most parents learn through trial and error. Here are a few guidelines that may help you be more comfortable and successful in this role.
1. Increase your self-awareness. There can be a strong tendency to live some of your own unfulfilled sports dreams through your child’s experiences. Check your ego at the front door.
2. It is very tough to be a parent AND a coach. Find a good teacher/coach and let them do their job while leaving you the all important roles of providing support, encouragement, potential discipline and limit setting.
3. Provide your youngster with unconditional love and positive regard. Be heavy on praise and light on criticism.
4. Place the emphasis on enjoyment and improving rather than winning vs. losing. Ask open-ended questions like, “How did it go today?” instead of, “Did you win?”
5. Do not ignore negative behavior, whether on or off the field, such as cheating, intentionally hurting someone, throwing a temper tantrum, etc. These are “teachable” moments to help your child develop healthy attitudes and behaviors.
6. Be a good spectator. Be sure to cheer good performance by both teams. Okay, you can cheer louder for your child’s team!
7. Help your child create balance in his/her life. Sports may be very important to some, but the vast majority of participants are going to make their living off the playing field, so take steps to insure sports participation does not interfere with academic performance.
8. Know the rules and etiquette for your child’s sport. Their coach will appreciate you took the time to learn rules and etiquette and probably feel more comfortable in talking things over with you.
9. Avoid making or accepting excuses or blaming coaches, officials, conditions, equipment, etc. for poor play or losses. Where serious and legitimate concerns are expressed, act promptly and decisively to correct a bad or dangerous situation.
10. Be a good role model. Kids are more likely to learn by what they see you do and how you react rather than what you say. Follow these sports parents’ guidelines and both you and your young athlete will likely have a more enjoyable and satisfying experience both on and off court.
Dr. Robert Heller is a Psychologist and Tennis Teaching Professional.