Parents: Don't worry!
By Linda Alberts
If you want to enjoy your child’s participation in youth sports and help them do better, it might be best if you worried a little less.
This doesn’t mean to stop caring about your child’s wellbeing, the coach’s intentions or the program’s philosophy, of course. Just worry about the outcome of the game, your child’s playing time and their spot in the lineup a little less.
Or a lot less.
Wringing your hands over bad plays and bad calls won’t affect the outcome of your child’s game.
“It is important for parents to understand that no individual can control results. Therefore, the importance is to focus on the process; the areas that one can control – which are very few,” said Dr. Tiffany Jones, CC-AASP, sports performance psychology consultant and owner of X-Factor Performance Consulting. “I tell athletes that during play they can control attitude, body language and work ethic. Out of play, they can control their nutrition, hydration, sleep and commitment. Parents have even less control than their youth sports children.”
Yet, this lack of control may be the very reason parents worry about their child’s sports performance.
“I believe that parents have always had the potential to live vicariously through their children’s achievements; however, due to the growing use of technology and the myth of college scholarships, parents have become even more consumed with this success,” says Jones.
Today there are programs and apps that allow parents to compare results and stats of their child’s competitions with their friends and other competitors. These programs add fuel to the fire when it comes to worrying about results and puts pressure on families to “keep up with the Joneses’.”
The other component to this is college scholarships. “Though only a tiny percentage of youth athletes end up playing at the collegiate level, many parents believe that their child is the one,” says Jones. “Lack of playing time, losing and belonging to the ‘best’ club then becomes vitally critical to parents because ‘what if’ their child falls behind…no college scholarship.”
THE PATH TO SUCCESS
Jones has identified three major factors that influence a child’s athletic success. “I’m simplifying these,” she says. “But I think sometimes we need simple when tackling issues that are so multi-faceted.”
Genetics. “Genetics are such a huge reason for an athlete’s success in sport. Parents want to fight me on this all of the time, but it is so true. You can’t trick physiology,” says Jones.
Parenting. “Parenting has a huge role in a child reaching their excellence in and out of sport,” Jones says. “I’m begging parents to parent and teach their child life skills. Allow sport coaches to coach.”
Commitment. Jones says this is a huge factor. “No one can make someone commit. Commitment is hard, painful, frustrating, and not fun because nothing is fun until you get good at it, and there are many delays in gratification and it requires motivation,” she says.
Only one of these factors are in parents’ control: parenting. If you’re too busy worrying about your child’s performance, stats and results then you’re missing an opportunity to teach your child life lessons.
“Considering you can’t control results, parents stressing over results teaches their children to focus on something they can’t control, which in turn can create a lot of stress for the child,” says Jones. "Often winning, losing and results are tied to how hard one works which we know does not equate to each other. How many times have you won when your performance was poor and, in reverse, how many times have you lost but performed at your absolute best? It happens all the time.”
Instead, parents should focus on teaching their child how to respond in the face of failure and adversity – as well as model those characteristics themselves.
“Teaching children how to deal with failure and to fight through those failures is absolutely crucial to a child’s success in and out of sport,” Jones says.
As a sport and performance psychology consultant and an associate professor at a large university, Jones finds that many children do not have the necessary life skills to reach their excellence.
“They struggle communicating face to face with adults. They have difficulty fighting through hard times and they often focus on and worry obsessively about results,” she says. “Children are becoming less and less equipped to deal with ‘real world’ scenarios, which can often be traced back to attributes they learned or did not learn during their youth sport experience.”
“Parents be there for your kids by holding them accountable and putting them in difficult situations,” advises Jones. “Let them struggle but then talk through the struggle with them and how it can translate into real world situations later in their lives.”
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