Youth Sports and Three Things

In our family, it’s safe to say that life can often revolve around sports. We’re either playing or watching a game or match almost every day. Both of our kids have been involved in some sort of sports since their early days. My wife and I both played and coached on the high school level and we certainly have teams we pull for. We’re simply a sports family.  I totally believe in the great lessons that sports teach. Kids learn how to work hard, work with others, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. They have the chance to be physically active and grow in so many ways. I really do love it.

But I also know the dark side of sports. For years I have seen kids being pushed to over perform and overachieve at every level. I have heard dads degrade their sons, moms trash coaches, and all sorts of parents treat officials like they aren’t human. I recently heard about a young lady in middle school who doesn’t want to play a particular sport in high school, but her parents are going to force her to do it. That probably won’t end well! We could chat for hours about the ways we as adults have robbed kids of simply getting the opportunity to enjoy playing a game.

A few years ago, I decided to take a different approach as a parent. I decided that, when it comes to sports, I would simply encourage my kids, not just in their craft, but in their character as they enjoyed the game. I got in the habit of telling them there were three things I want for them to do as they got out of the car to go to practice or a game. I tell them to work hard, lead well, and have fun. That’s it. No more. I don’t tell them to keep their eye on the ball or keep their head down. No challenge to follow through on their shot or their throw or their swing.  No pressure to be the best or win the game. I don’t take the role of additional coach pushing them to perform.  I’m just a dad encouraging them to work hard, lead well, and have fun. If they work hard, good things will happen. If they lead well, others will benefit from their leadership. If they have fun, they will want to come back for another day. And if that’s all I push, there is little chance that they feel a pressure to perform coming from me. I can just be dad and cheer them on.

Why is this so important? Because I want to have solid, healthy relationship with my kids. I want to be their biggest fan, not another nagging voice or critic. I want for them to enjoy their time in spots and not look at it like a job or a task to complete. I want for it to be what it is meant to be – a game!