Parenting Advice: Kids’ Sports
I think someone once said, “Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual” and for sure I know parenting doesn’t come with one.
There are countless parenting books, articles, and more; and there is plenty of advice available from other parents. Nothing totally prepares you, but I’m a strong believer in not reinventing the wheel, so I love to read lots on a subject, and to pick the brains of people who have “been there, done that.”
I’m one of those grizzled veterans. My youngest are 21-year-old twins and my oldest is 24.
I’ve posted a handful of things about parenting. A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on kids and drinking. And when my oldest graduated from college in 2014, I wrote a two-part series on parenting suggestions. Here’s a link to part one.
In this post, I want to say a few things about kids and sports.
I am a huge sports fan. I’m a fan of all the major sports and I can easily get sucked in to the drama of sports I don’t normally watch. And I love playing. I particularly love softball, and have played in leagues for nearly 30 years. I also play tennis with my best friend Jeff. (We first played when we were in middle school and are fortunate to still have our health, to still enjoy tennis, and to live near each other as grownups.)
I played very little organized sports when I was a kid. My parents were kind of clueless about that kind of thing and didn’t enroll me in little league baseball until fifth grade. When I tried out for the high school tennis team in ninth grade, I had barely played the sport (and was rewarded with a spot as last doubles with Jeff; he was much better than me, but teamed with me because he was that kind of friend.) When I joined the freshman high school soccer team, I had played even less soccer than tennis.
My favorite activities as a kid were sandlot football, stickball against the schoolyard wall, and when I was very young, fungo softball in the street near my house.
My kids were part of a generation where sports was far more formalized. I enrolled them in the town-sponsored kindergarten clinics for softball and soccer, which began many years of play for them in those sports. Basketball, in our town, started in third grade, and my kids started that as well.
My son was excited to start the kindergarten clinics. My twin daughters were not. It was here I made an executive decision: they were going whether they wanted to or not. Fortunately, I was able to get them to go, as opposed to making them go, but if I had to, I would have forced the issue. As with many things kids don’t want to try (like new foods), sometimes kids need some gentle coaxing.
Because I had already been to the kindergarten clinics with my son two years earlier, I knew how many kids turned out for the sessions. I said to my daughters, “All your friends will be there.” I didn’t know that for sure, but I was confident my statement was accurate enough. They told my I was wrong. We went back and forth and finally, I said, “Let’s go. If your friends aren’t there, we can go home.”
I was right, and the rest is history. One of my daughters played soccer through eighth grade and the other played through 11th grade (only stopping because of a bad injury.)
Each of my kids stopped playing baseball/softball after 5th grade. In each case, it was tough for me to swallow because softball is my favorite sport to play. Unlike when they were in kindergarten, and I knew more than they did about what was good for them, by the time they were in fifth grade I was fully supportive of their decision because I knew they wanted to stop for a good reason (in this case, the reason was they found the sport boring, as many people do.)
By the time each of my kids decided to stop playing basketball after eighth grade, because they wanted to spend their time doing things they were more passionate about, it was easy to accept those decisions.
And when two of them went on to add lacrosse to their activities, and one added tennis and bowling, all 100% their own idea, I felt great.
Two more pieces of advice:
The first is kids are spending too much time focused on one sport at too young an age. An infinitesimal number of athletes will become professionals. Yet, parents invest time and money and push their kids to spend all their time on one sport. At least until high school, if not past that, kids should play different sports. It’s better for their physical and mental development. Here’s something important to read on this subject.
The second is about rooting for your kids on the sidelines. I learned this the hard way. When my son was very young, he was a fantastic athlete. Yet, one day, he came home from elementary school with a project about “things I like to” which read, in part, “I like soccer, but my dad doesn’t think I’m very good.” I was beyond surprised. I thought he was incredibly good. The explanation had to be this: I had been one of those parents (many do this) barking suggestions from the sideline.
I was shocked into a cold turkey change of behavior. From that moment, I never yelled a suggestion from the sideline. I would occasionally yell out positive things (to my son, and to other kids on the field) like “great play,” “good job,” etc. But that was it.
In a related piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger, who regularly writes about family matters, wrote, “Being a spectator is tough. Watching a child struggle can unleash parents’ competitiveness, or rekindle the pride or pain they once felt when playing sports in their youth. Many of the soccer, football, hockey and other programs starting up again this fall are costly and time-consuming, making it harder to stay calm if your child doesn’t try hard or a coach seems misguided. Coaches say it is best for parents to set aside emotion and ego, watch the game closely, avoid shouting criticism or instructions from the sidelines and cheer for the whole team, not just their own child.”
What are your experiences with, and thoughts about, kids’ sports? Please join the conversation with your comments…