Parenting a Teen Athlete: 6 Facts You MUST Know
Parenting a teen athlete is a different world from parenting a little leaguer or a pee-wee player. Things rise: the costs, the stakes, the competition, the drama, and your sacrifices.
Your kids are growing up and changing right before your eyes, but the problem is that as kids mature, many parents stay the same. They try to parent a high schooler the same way they parented their son in little league or their daughter in U8 soccer.
Are you falling into this trap? If so, you are most likely seeing that strategy doesn’t work very well. High school sports are a different game and if your child is on the verge of entering that arena, brace yourself, because the ride of youth sports is going to get even bumpier. Here’s 6 facts you must know to keep the experience positive.
You and the Coach Have Different Jobs
As a high school sports parent, your job description actually becomes pretty simple: support your child, the entire team, and the coach. That’s it. Unfortunately, most parents do not stick to their job description. They blur the lines and step over into the coach’s territory and try to take over some of his jobs.
Parents and coaches should be on the same team when it comes to youth sports. But being on the same team does not mean they have the same jobs. Yes, they should both be all about helping kids grow, learn, and have fun in competition, but that is where the similarities should end.
For your high school athlete to have the best sports experience possible, you and the coach must partner together, doing what is best for the kids–not what is best for your egos or insecurities. When that happens, then the real winners of the game will be your kids.
There will be Huge Mental Battles
You’ve probably heard coaches and athletes say that sports is much more of a mental game than physical. Youth sports is more than skill, uniforms, team chemistry, coaching philosophy, and great snacks. In fact, experts say that it’s actually more of a mind game than anything else: 80% mental and 20% physical. Gaining the mental edge in sports will be an ongoing challenge for your child. I’m not sure that the battle ever ends. I guess you’d have to ask LeBron James or Ben Roethlisberger or about that.
The mental game includes the ability to focus, move past mistakes, and persist through adversity. It involves dealing with anger, low self-esteem, head-games, and perfectionism. There are boundless experts out there ready to help your child and if you’d like to get help, check out my friend Craig Sigl from the Mental Toughness Academy. He has a ton of proven techniques for helping young athletes deal with these various struggles (that’s my affiliate link).
Not all Dreams Come True
Parents often struggle with how much to let kids dream and how much to help them see reality. You may be tempted to be a dream-crusher–with the best of loving intentions, of course–as you try to protect your child from disappointment.
When your child gets to upper middle and high school, the dream-chasing can get costly. If your child wants to make the team, or get playing time or get noticed and ultimately make it to the college or pro level, he may feel the need for travel ball, skill lessons, skill camps, and a myriad of other wallet-draining demands.
At this point, it’s time for some hard questions:
Does my child have the drive or passion? (your child’s actions are the proof in the pudding)
Does my child really have the skill? (get objective opinions on this!)
Are the sacrifices to fuel this dream really worth it? (the cost, the traveling, the sacrifices that every family member will make)
After answering, you will know whether this dream is one that is worthy of chasing.
Playing Time Addictions are Unhealthy
As your child becomes a middle school or high school athlete, playing time is no long automatic and most likely will not be equal. For many of you, playing time has become a sort of idol. You adore it so much that you’ve become a playing time junkie. If your child doesn’t play a certain amount, you don’t get your fix and the withdrawal isn’t pretty.
Here’s the honest truth, parents–spoken from a mom who watched her kids play from age 4 through college and whose kids encountered numerous playing time battles–in the overall scheme of life, playing time is not really so important.
But what is important is that your athlete grows tough, learns to fight and work hard, that he has mental and physical victories, that she learns how to be selfless, humble, loving and strong. That they develop good friendships with teammates and coaches.
This whole process of playing sports–unless your child go on to the pros–is meaningless if your child gets nothing out of it but a lot of playing time.
Stop watching the clock and start enjoying watching your child grow up.
Your Child is a Teenager, Not Just an Athlete
Being the parent of a teenager who plays sports is a double whammy. Not only are you dealing with the demands of youths ports, you are also facing the extreme challenges of raising a teenager and you must figure out how to deal with him not just as an athlete but as an adolescent as well.
Suddenly, issues like playing time and team drama may seem insignificant as you deal with hormones, peer pressure and independence struggles. And when you add drinking, bad attitudes, and harmful behaviors to the mix; life can become chaotic.
In this season of life, it’s so important that your child knows that you see him or her as a person, not just as an athlete. Spend time with him doing something that has nothing to do with his sport, have conversations with her that talk about everything besides the game she just played.
And most importantly, don’t assume that just because your child is doing well in sports, that they are not struggling in other areas, such as friendships or grades, peer pressure, or self-image. Keep caring for the WHOLE child, not just the athlete.
The Competitive Pressure Increases
As your child grows, so does the pressure. When he gets to high school, he may have to try out for the team, he could be playing in front of bigger crowds, and then he hits varsity and it’s a whole new level of pressure. Friends, news cameras, newspaper reporters, scouts, teachers, family, and a whole slew of spectators are watching her play.
I used to get so nervous for my kids before their varsity games, just imagining what they were feeling! It’s not just the pressure of competition; it’s also the pressure of being in the spotlight. It’s a double whammy of pressure!
Another large stress factor for student athletes is the challenge of balancing school and sports. All these factors pile up on kids and sooner or later, if your child is feeling the pains of stress, you will see the side-effects.
If you recognize the symptoms–lack of desire, communication, and motivation–it may be time to step in and help your child deal with the stress he is feeling. Yes, your child needs to learn to deal with some of this himself, but as with any challenge, your child will learn better as you guide, encourage, listen, and support him along the way.
One Last Thing
Remember the bigger picture, always. Youth sports experiences are building blocks for the future. Each game. Each friend. Each coach. Each team. Brick by brick, your child is building for the future and the adult he will become.