As a mom of five boys, I’ve stood on the sidelines of football games, hung out in a gym for hours for basketball tournaments and I’ve hung out at a county park all day for countless baseball tournaments. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But through my love for that part of our life, I’ve also realized that there is a skill and an art to parenting kids in sports. There are lessons to be had for the kids because they are watching us. So how we are parenting kids in sports allows to demonstrate good (and bad) behaviors.
Some might watch our family running from one sporting event to another and think we’re crazy to let it run our life. But the truth is that we do it because we love it! I think I was blessed with five boys for a reason. I’m a boy-mom – a sports mom. I love every minute of it.
I’ve watched other parents be uninterested in their kids sporting events and I’ve watched parents care so much that it takes the joy out of the game for the child that’s playing. Like most things in life – my opinion is that we need to have some moderation in the way we approach that season of parenting.
It’s not always easy, but how we control our reaction to what happens during our kids sporting events influences their personalities. After all, they’re watching everything we do. They are modeling core behaviors after us. So when all else fails, I think we need to hold ourselves to a bit of a golden standard – we have to think about whether we’d want to watch our children behave the way we are.
Handle the Lows of Parenting Kids in Sports With Dignity
The hardest time to be our best self is in the face of adversity. Just like it’s the best feeling to watch your kids succeed – the same is true in reverse for me. It’s twice as hard to watch them struggle as it is to struggle ourselves.
Nobody thinks back and reflects on how someone handled an easy situation. When is the last time you thought – wow, that friend of mine is so gracious because she thanked someone for giving her a compliment. You think about how someone offended them and they handled it with grace right? The hard stuff is our opportunity to shine. And likewise, it’s our opportunity to show our kids how to be good people.
There are so many opportunities to stay strong and steady though and do the right thing even when it’s hard. Here are some of my biggest efforts that I make to not only lead by example so my kids hopefully do the same, but also to make sure they feel worthy.
Show the Referees Some Respect.
Where we live, there is a shortage of referees because nobody wants the job. Why? Because parents are constantly screaming at them. I can understand why nobody wants that gig. It’s not very appealing to run back and forth on a court or a field, chasing after kids who are not perfectly skilled at the sport they’re playing and be expected to catch every single mistake that’s made, only to have parents screaming (sometimes screaming profanities) in response to the call. After all – one parent’s child/team is impacted by each and every call because there are two sides to that coin.
Here’s the deal though – I’m not suggesting that we all turn a blind eye to a terrible call. But maybe we voice our concern to one another in the stands, as opposed to screaming it across the room. Maybe we recognize the difficulty of the job. Maybe we recognize that nobody is perfect and people make mistakes. Chances are, you’re reading this and thinking one of two things. You’re either remembering the last awful call you watched a ref make when your kid was playing – or – you’re thinking you know what I’m saying makes sense.
The problem in life is that opportunities to shine as a human being usually come with the crappiest of emotions.
Praise Effort over Outcomes.
We can’t always control the outcome in life. Particularly as a part of a team. Because one child on the team can only directly 100% influence the child’s individual efforts and skill. Sure players can support each other and rise as leaders. Our kids can be a good influence. But the control that each child has is over their own body and their choices. So even if our kids work really hard and have the skill to win, they may lose. Praising effort helps the child to value effort. And valuing effort will never go unrewarded for long.
Sure a season may end with disappointment, but I encourage my boys to value and focus on where they’ve come from. If they worked hard and they developed as a player, they should be proud of that. Not only does that encourage a sense of self-worth for them as individuals but it also fosters good sportsmanship. Because it encourages them to be gracious to their teammates. If they focus on effort, the crappy outcome is less likely to make them feel anger toward their teammates who maybe made a mistake.
Teach Them Grace.
Kids have to learn to give grace. To give grace to themselves. To give grace to their teammates. We live in such a competitive world. And competition can be healthy (in moderation) but it can be destructive too. Seeing so many kids battle depression makes my heart hurt. The whole world could use more grace.
Sometimes it really blows me away how I look at my kids and I realize that we as parents have the power to shape the future. Think about what the world would be like if every child was raised with dignity, grace, determination and kindness. When parenting feels hard – I try to remember that it’s worth it. Not only for my child’s future, but also to make the world a better place. How well they communicate and get along with others will define how well they get along with their spouse and maybe even how well they do professionally as an adult. And so much of it comes down to how we act as role-models, which is why I think parenting kids in sports (the right way) is so important!
One Season of Life Doesn’t Define Us.
Maybe they didn’t make the “A” Team. Maybe they felt like they didn’t play well enough. There are two ways I think we can respond as parents. We can support them and tell them they are awesome, they are better than they see, and we love them. We can push them and tell them they need to work harder. Like anything in life, I believe moderation applies. I tell my kids that first off – they don’t have to be the best at everything. So it’s o.k. if they aren’t the best. I tell them that the most important thing is that put their best foot forward in the moment & of course, that they have fun.
With that said – I also tell them that if they want to be better and they want to be on the varsity team in high school and maybe have a chance at playing beyond high school, that will take hard work and determination. That is all true friends. And it’s an important life lesson. Nobody gets to be the CEO or a big shot in anything without hard work and determination. It’s a great lesson!!! So I encourage them that I could care less what they decide – but that if they want to work harder, I’ll support that and help them. If not, no big deal – let’s go hang out and do something else. Not only does this teach our kids the value of hard work, but it empowers them to make decisions. It empowers them to follow their heart.
Handle the Highs of Parenting Kids in Sports with Class
There’s no greater high than watching your kid succeed in sports. (At least in my opinion). Honestly, I think it’s a bigger rush than succeeding at something myself. The pride and love I feel for my kids when I see their hard work payoff is like nothing else. After all, they are my greatest achievement in life.
Watching your kid hit a 3-point shot when the team is down and there’s 2 minutes left in a game. Seeing your kid pitch a no-hitter for 3-innings of baseball. Watching your kid hit a triple, bringing his teammates home to score. It’s all a huge rush. So maybe you’re wondering what could possibly be the lesson there? That’s the easy stuff right? Except that sometimes, when we’re in that place of feeling fantastic, we can forget to be humble.
You see, there’s a different between being proud of our children and being prideful. Being prideful is defined as “having an excessively high opinion of oneself.” Being prideful is crossing the line and being over the top. We’ve all done it. We’re all human. But we also all have observed a fan who is always like that – am I right?
Celebrate with Dignity
Last night, my two oldest boys played a baseball game where the score ended at 24-2. They won. By the end of the first inning, the score was 12-0. You get the drift. Was I proud that my kids played well? Absolutely. They had some amazing hits and my oldest pitched a no-hitter.
But I didn’t let my pride in their achievements make me prideful as a person. We complimented our boys on a “good hit” and “nice pitching” – but it wasn’t over the top. Why? Because on the other side of that field were 12 kids between the ages of 10-12. Think about that – 10 to 12 years old. Do you remember what it was like to be 10 – 12 years old? They are still babies. They have feelings. That game sucked for them. And their parents were feeling bummed.
If you didn’t know where this one was going at the beginning – I bet you do now. As a kid, I was taught not to rub dirt in another’s face. Sometimes, our love for our kids and our pride in their achievements blinds us to the fact that we should still follow that rule. How can we be effective at parenting our kids in sports if we teach them to gloat?
And our kids are watching us. So the next time they win or they’re up by a lot in a sports game, do I want my kid to act gracious and respectful? Or do I want to have the kid that taunts people and brags? I know I want the gracious and respectful kid. And I’ve realized over the last 8 years that in order to do that, I have to lead by example.
Don’t Live Vicariously Through Your Child
We’ve all seen the parent who is a little too attached to their child’s success in a sport. There’s a fine line between pushing your child where they don’t want to go and supporting your kids’ ambitions. Wanting your child to succeed should never cause a parent to get angry with them for under-performing.
When our kids first started playing sports – they have all chosen to play three sports – baseball, basketball & football. Doing all three means endless sports year-round. We are lucky to get 6-8 weeks throughout the entire year that are not dominated by practices and games. Again, I love every minute. But with that level of chaotic scheduling, it’s hard to focus on any one.
So far, each of them has had an age (usually around 9-10 years old) when they realize where they love lies. For my oldest, it’s basketball. For my second-oldest, it’s baseball. And for my middle child it seems like it will probably be football – but the jury’s still out.
I think it’s so important to let them choose their own path. I want my kids to lead with their heart. Sure as adults, we sometimes have to make choices about where our life goes that deviates from that a little (hopefully not too much). But good grief – they are kids. The first thing that matters now is that they should be having fun!!!
So even if your child starts off with a favorite or you think maybe they have a favorite – check your enthusiasm to make sure you’re not overstepping. I talk to my kids often about what they are thinking. I encourage them to be honest and open with me. And through that process, I hear what they tell me about their likes and dislikes.
Watching them become independent thinkers who are empowered to make choices is a huge step in the direction of being ready to adult in life. Because we all know how hard that is.
Remember that these are just my reflections…
You’re showing up and reading an article about parenting. So you’re doing great! You care enough to read this. Remember to give yourself some grace.
Friends, let me end this topic by saying that I have made almost all of these taboo’s. We’re all human. Half of these lessons I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve caught myself realizing my kids negative behaviors are a reflection of my own. The thing about parenting (including parenting kids in sports) is that we all make mistakes – what matters isn’t that we never make them. The lesson is that we catch ourselves, we recognize it, we correct it, and we acknowledge it with our kids. When I find that I’ve done something to send the wrong message to my kids, I own it and acknowledge it with my kids. I tell them – hey mom’s not perfect. Mom shouldn’t have done this and here’s why. So let’s both try not to do it. Okay?
You’d be surprised how far a conversation like that can take you with your kids.