Growing up, I played all sports that my school offered, volleyball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, track and field…the whole gamut. I figured, why not and my mom was grateful “exercise” kept me busy. For me, it was all about the sport and my friends.
I loved everything about being on the team and playing the game…the intensity, the competitiveness and the ultimate win! My position you ask? Well, I was the legendary bench warmer. That’s right, I sat on the bench during those key games and would only get called when we were up by multiple, double-digit points. But I didn’t care about that. Sports were a haven for me, a place where I hung out with my friends, had fun and learned something new! What’s not to like about that? And my friends, they didn’t care that I was a benchwarmer; that wasn’t what defined me. And after 30+ years, we are still dear friends who look back at many memories we had together both on and off the court.
As I watch my kids participate in their various sports activities, I hope that the friends they make on these teams provide a lifetime of friendships and memorable experiences too. My other hope is that their coaches and friends make up a community where they can learn perseverance, teamwork and so many other “life skills” together.
When Mike Matheny, who played MLB for 13+ years and is the current manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, published an open letter to the parents on his son’s baseball team, his words really hit home. When he published this letter, he was also the coach for his son’s junior league baseball team and he believed that “the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents”. Wait, what? How can that be? I’m my kids’ biggest fan and I’m the one who takes them to practices and cheers them on! How can I, as a parent, be the biggest problem in youth sports?
As I continued to read the letter, phrases like “…adds more pressure on the kids”, “kids need to hear that you enjoyed watching them”, “silent source of encouragement”, sank deep into my heart. I realized that my good intention of cheering my kids on was adding pressure simply because of the words I chose and how I said them, “Come on, you can do it! Go!”. After reading, reflecting and re-reading this with Paul, we decided that it was important for us to be more intentional with how we “do” sports as a family.
I know that every family has different parenting styles and different priorities when it comes to sports for their kids. I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach to this. To be honest, Paul and I are still trying to figure it out for our family and it is always a work in progress. But in the meantime, we try to be intentional with what we instill in our kids’ and their world of sports. Currently we have 5 game-day priorities, but some are much harder to do than others.
- It’s important for us to be silent – Mike Matheny used words like, “be a silent and constant source of support”. Specifically, we don’t tell our kids what they can do better pre, post or during the game, that’s the coach’s job even when the coach is not perfect. And when the game is done, the go-to phrase regardless of a win or lose, “I had fun watching you” and that is it, nothing more. There is no replay of the game unless our child is super excited and wants to say everything about the game, then our role is to nod, smile and listen. This is probably the hardest one for us to do consistently since we always like to share our opinions and replay an intense game. But we think it’s also the most important priority of all.
- It’s a must to say “thank you” – We let our kids know that it is a privilege to be a part of a team. The coaches and referees have put in a lot of time and effort to ensure that they have a safe and fair game. So out of respect and gratitude, our kids cannot walk off the court/field/pool until they say thank you to their coaches and the refs. These people work hard to give them this opportunity and our kids need to show their gratitude.
- It’s ok to be “ok” – We let our kids know that it’s ok to be “ok” or “average”. Our youngest daughter often complains at a swim meet that she got the “participant” ribbon AGAIN! We help her to focus on her personal best and look at the improvement of her swim times instead of constantly striving to be on the top-tier. This goal to be #1 is doomed to fail for any child. We want them to understand that being #1 is not the ultimate goal.
- It’s important to be committed – We let our kids know that they need to be at their practices/games on time and to pay attention to their coaches. These coaches are taking the time and effort from their own busy lives to be with them. So my kids need to make on-time happen! Now, it’s nearly impossible to be on time for everything, but we at least make the effort.
- It’s important to try your best and have fun – This is a mantra that Paul says to our kids before any game/tournament/meet. At the end of the day, that’s what we believe really matters. And if you don’t have fun, well that’s ok too since there is also this thing called “hard”. And learning to do hard is a blessed lesson in itself!
Ok, so that in a nutshell is what we attempt to do as a family when it comes to kids and sports. It’s a difficult balance and sometimes our priorities with sports will change. I would love to hear how you manage and balance sports activities with your kids.