Do you know parents who take their children’s sports pursuits to an extreme?
In his recent book Until It Hurts, Mark Hyman looks at the American culture of youth sports and wonders if things have become overly intense or even abusive. He addresses the tendency in parents—and especially some fathers—to place so much emphasis on performance and winning that the sport loses its fun. Many of the parents aren’t having fun either. They’re nervous wrecks who are either yelling constant instructions to their child or else they can’t bear to watch in case their child doesn’t do well—they’d be too embarrassed.
Some parents pay thousands of dollars for specialized instruction for their young tennis star or quarterback, and according to Hyman, there’s no evidence that all that extra help at a young age will result in a college sports scholarship or professional contract. Also, young kids are pushing their bodies too far, too fast, and many sustain injuries that prevent them from participating at all for several months or years.
Although the book raises legitimate concerns, some question whether this is really a national emergency, since many kids still have great experiences with sports—they experience the benefits and learn important life lessons in the process. For more on both sides of the discussion, see this review of the book.
Hyman’s cautions are a fitting reminder for all of us to be balanced and keep the right perspective in the way we encourage our children to pursue their dreams—their dreams, not ours. This applies whether our children are involved in sports, music or other performing arts, debate, hobbies, or whatever. We can help make sure our active, involved and exploring children will look back on these years with joy, appreciation and no regrets. Here are four suggestions to keep in mind:
Know your child—physically and emotionally. Know his dreams and whether his activities are in balance with other priorities.
Get involved. Be a coach, assistant coach, scorekeeper, sponsor, etc. If you aren’t comfortable with some of what you see, try to influence things in a positive direction.
Stay positive. Be very careful about criticizing or embarrassing your child (or anyone else’s), especially in public. And that goes for the adults too. The best way to help your child improve is by praising his progress—not only in skills, but also his attitude and sportsmanship.
Enjoy it. Focus on the experience your child is gaining. Even if he’s the worst player on a last place team, by maintaining a positive attitude you can help him still have a winning season.
- Talk with your children about Vince Lombardi’s famous quote: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Ask them, “Is that right?” “How do we define ‘winning’”?
- Get involved in practicing sports with your child—and being actively involved in other pursuits he enjoys: music, hobbies, etc.
- Watch for and point out male and female athletes in the news who are positive role models.
- Talk through challenging situations that your child could encounter with other competitors during a game. Help her brainstorm positive, sportsmanlike ways to handle them.
- Make a special point to cheer for and encourage a member of your child’s team who is struggling.