On October 6, 2000 God brought my first and only son into this world. He would later grace our family with two more girls. From day one we said we would allow them to choose a sport THEY enjoyed but just asked that they at least try a few of them. It was only natural that “the boy” would choose two of the sports that are nearest and dearest to my heart. From the time he could get up on two feet, there was a basketball hoop in his play area. So maybe I tilted the “favorite sport” in my favor by getting him hooked on hoops early and often.
Now that he and the girls are older, I am starting to walk the fine line of parenting an athlete. To be honest, my wife does this more for the girls. She was a swimmer so our youngest gets her coaching and instruction from her. Our middle child is a gymnast so my wife and I are both in uncharted waters. The boy, however, plays two sports I played. It’s been my joy to teach, instruct and guide him as he has grown. He currently plays at the highest level league in both.
So how do you parent that?
Let me unpack what I mean. I believe there is a fine line between coaching your child and being “that dad” that pushes too hard. I’ve seen it on the teams I coach. From parents who are there to just cheer to those that ride their child like Zorro the entire game. Where’s the balance? Where is that place that gets the most out of them, challenges them and yet doesn’t push them to the point they turn you off completely? I have no idea if what I say below is correct or not. I honestly don’t. I struggle game to game with this. I’m just being honest.
1. Be honest in your evaluation of their talent – We all believe our kid is the best at whatever they do. We’re convinced they will be an all-american. We tend to make this assessment before they can even run, throw, dribble, shoot or catch. We just know our kid will be the one with his name in lights. Could it be that they are not? It’s a tough thing to answer, but doing so will allow you and your little athlete to enjoy the sports they are involved in. Your expectations won’t be so high and their dreams won’t be crushed.
2. Know their strengths and weaknesses – Before our child puts on a uniform, we all have a pretty good idea of what their “bent” is. We know if they are a thinker, aggressive, passive, patient, energetic and how they are wired. Choosing a sport and a position where they can grow and utilize those talents is a great place to start. Once in the sport they choose, understand if you have a passive child by nature, you can’t expect aggressive play. It may come one day, but it just may not be in the cards.
3. Choose wisely – If your town is like ours, there are most likely multiple leagues with a wide range of talent levels. This goes to point number 1, but if you believe your child might not be elite at a particular sport, put them in a league where they can enjoy the sport while not getting discouraged. If you see real talent and ability that needs refined, put them in a league where they will be challenged to get better. It might take some trial and error. If they are overmatched, be okay with moving to a different league. If they are dominating with little effort, it’s time to move them up.
4. Encourage always – I have no idea if I’m getting this right. I honestly don’t. This is just my effort and me being honest. The reality is that no matter how good or bad your little athlete is, we need to always encourage them. Even though they are ours, they have their own minds, bodies and emotions. As in life, winning often involves repeated failure. As long as they are trying, we need to encourage each miss and celebrate each hit.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. This is a real struggle for me. I want the best for my kids. I want them to reach their full potential and yet enjoy each and every moment and game. It’s a tough line to walk. I just hope I’m getting some of it right.