If you’ve made the decision to give your child the awesome opportunity to play youth sports, congratulations! You’re a sports parent. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to go through parenthood. However, I believe that being a sports parent comes with a significant set of responsibilities. It’s not enough to simply be a sports parent. Any parent can do that. Every sports parent should desire to be a great sports parent.
A great sports parent uses sports as a vehicle and tool to mold their kids into awesome adults.
Being a great sports parent isn’t easy. It takes effort, dedication, patience, thought, consistency, restraint, vision and perspective.
After a lot of reflection on my experiences as a sports dad, I’ve come up with what I believe to be the 10 non-negotiables when it comes to how to be a great sports parent. In other words, if you want to be considered a truly great sports parent, you need to nail down these 10 things.
Keep in mind that you’ll probably never have all 10 of these nailed at the same time. I know I don’t. And some will come more naturally than others. The important thing is to try to master as many as you can and constantly be working on the others that you haven’t mastered yet.
Here we go…
10. Be Grateful.
It’s easy to take for granted the amazing and rewarding experience of being a sports parent. Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are to have kids that are healthy and able to compete in sports that they love.
If you ever get frustrated with your kid for making mistakes or playing poorly, try this little mental exercise. Imagine that your kid breaks his leg on the very next play and has to miss the rest of the season. Feel the emotions that would come with something like that.
After you take a deep breath of relief because you were just imagining it, I bet you’ll watch the rest of the game with a lot more gratitude. Great sports parents are grateful that their kids have the opportunity to play, enjoy and compete in sports.
9. Be Their Dad First, & Their Coach A Distant Second.
Your kids will have a lot of coaches during their lifetime, but they’ll only have one dad. It’s way more important to have a strong and lasting relationship with your kids than it is for them to reach whatever potential you think they have in sports.
Instead of using the car ride home from games or practices to get on your kid’s case about what they did wrong and how they can be better, use that time to have great conversations.
If you happen to be a dad who’s also the coach of your kid’s team, the same rule applies. When you’re at practice or games, you can be “coach.” But as soon as the game or practice is over, it’s important for your relationship that you transition back into being “dad.”
8. Let Your Kids Control Their Own Pace.
One of the main causes of burnout in youth sports is parents forcing kids to play on a more competitive team before the kid asks to step up the competition level. If your child is happy playing rec league sports, don’t sign her up to play on a travel team that practices 3 times a week.
If your kid isn’t out in the driveway playing and practicing his sport in his free time, don’t sign him up for private lessons or extra training.
Help your kids be the best athletes THEY want to be. And be content with whatever level they want to reach. Don’t push them to do more than they want to do.
7. Praise The Effort Not The Result.
One thing I always remind my boys of is the only things they can control in a game or practice are their effort and focus. I don’t care if they play the worst game of their life. As long as they gave 100% effort and didn’t have a ton of mental mistakes, I’m happy.
I never want them to be afraid to make a mistake in competition. Athletes that are afraid of making a mistake are athletes who are afraid to take risks. And without risks, there’s no growth.
There are a lot more ways to succeed in youth sports besides what shows up on the scoreboard or in the box score. Great things happen when kids work hard and learn to fail forward. And that lesson will serve them well after they’re done playing sports.
6. Don’t Second Guess The Coach In Front Of Your Kid.
Even if you disagree with everything your kid’s coach does, don’t second guess him/her in front of your kid. That’s the fastest way for your kid to lose respect for the coach’s authority. And the second most kids know that their parents don’t like or respect their coach, they will stop listening and respecting the coach.
If the coach doesn’t have the team’s respect as their leader, there’s no hope for any kind of team success.
If you truly have an issue with how the coach is coaching the team, set up a time to discuss your concerns in a respectful way with the coach. And if you think you have coaching value to add to the team, ask the coach if you can help.
5. Provide Opportunities.
A great sports parent provides their kid with the opportunities they need to reach the potential that they want to reach. If a child has a desire and work ethic to get the most out of their God-given ability, then it’s a great sports parent’s responsibility to give their kid the opportunities that will help them achieve their goals.
Opportunities usually involve playing on higher level teams so that they can get the best coaching and play with and against the best players. When kids become teenagers, opportunities can also include playing on showcase teams in tournaments, getting extra training or lessons. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities come with increased expenses. But a great sports parent finds a way to help support their child’s dreams.
In my opinion though, these opportunities are earned, not given. Opportunities can be earned by a kid showing a strong passion for the sport and an internal desire to improve. If a kid is constantly playing and practicing their sport in their free time, that’s a great sign of desire. The hard work and dedication to achieve their goals should be rewarded with opportunities that can help them.
4. Don’t Coach From The Sidelines.
I know this is a serious struggle for many of us. And if you’ve ever done it, I’m sure you meant well. We do it because we love our kids and want to see them succeed. But it’s one of the worst things we can do as sports parents.
The only direction instructions should be coming from is the bench. When parents shout instructions from the sidelines, there’s a good chance they’re contradicting what the coaches have already told them. The fastest way to confuse the heck out of a kid is to have multiple people shouting different instructions at them at the same time.
It’s bad enough to shout instructions at your own kid. But for the love of God, never shout instructions at someone else’s kid.
3. Look For & Teach Life Lessons.
The greatest gift youth sports provides is the gift of life lessons. Every practice and game is packed full of life lessons that kids will be able to relate with. A great sports parent knows how to identify those teachable moments and uses them to help raise kids who will be awesome adults.
Youth sports are so awesome because they allow us to teach our kids lessons through stories that they just experienced. You can talk to your child all day about the golden rule, and they may not understand it. But the second you connect it to a situation that just happened in their game, they get it.
2. Have Perspective.
My 12-year old’s hockey team was in Phoenix last January for a tournament. They were facing the 5th ranked team in Canada. The kids played amazing and took the Canadian team into overtime, where they eventually lost. But the game never should have went to OT.
In the third period our kids scored, but the ref declared that the puck never crossed the goal line. I have slow motion video evidence that the puck was a good 2-4 inches past the goal line before a defender got a stick on it and cleared it. And from where I was standing near the goal line, I knew it was across the line immediately, with my naked eyes.
In the heat of the competition I was upset, because I knew that the ref may have just cost our kids a HUGE victory. At the time that call felt so massive. But once I allowed myself to step back a bit I realized that it’s still just a game with a bunch of 12-year olds who love to play hockey. Win or lose, their worlds aren’t going to change as a result of the game.
At the end of the day, the boys came out of that game with something even better than a win. They came out with an amazing experience battling against a great team. The experience they got from that game will help them get better the next time they face a top ranked team. In the future they’ll have the confidence that they can compete with any team.
Great sports parents have perspective. They understand the bigger picture.
1. Be There.
Be there. Plain and simple. When your kids have a game, be there to watch, cheer and support them. It’s more important than you’ll ever know.
Never Stop Trying To Be A Great Sports Parent
I’m still a major work in progress when it comes to being a great sports parent. But I like this list because it helps me stay accountable to my goal of being the best sports dad that I can be. I hope this proves to be a helpful reference for you, too.
Youth sports provides so many amazing benefits for our kids. It’s up to us not to screw up their experience.
Thanks for reading,