Growing up, sports was a huge part of my life. I played competitive softball for a decade, and besides earning dozens of trophies (including a national championship), I spent literally thousands of hours on the field. Unfortunately, burnout caused by negative interactions with adults ultimately drove me from the sport I grew up loving. Now, my own daughter is playing softball, and I’m determined to make her experience as positive as possible. I’ve been her coach both in rec ball and all-stars, and I’ve seen the gamut of adult/child interactions. If you want to be the best sports parent possible, here is my advice.
Do: Set up expectations before the season begins
When my daughter starts a new sport or a season, we always have a sit-down before the first practice to go over expectations. I don’t want my child to strive to be the best on the team—I just want her to be her best. I always tell her that the most important thing is that she tries her hardest during practice and games. When kids are young, the effort is more important than anything else.
Don’t: Emphasize “success”
Of course it’s amazing when your kid scores a goal, makes a basket, or hits a home run, but these are not the only things that are important. Sports require teamwork, and everyone contributes in different ways. Praise your kid for the effort, not the outcome.
Do: Act excited
Your kid might love a sport you find incredibly tedious. My daughter tried a sport I knew little about and thought was incredibly boring, but I never told her that. Instead, I was excited before every practice and game, and I cheered loudly with the other parents. I almost never knew what was happening, but my girl never knew that. She only saw me clapping and cheering her on.
Don’t: Show any disinterest
Believe me, I know youth sports can be boring sometimes, especially when kids are very young. But your child will mirror your attitude, so pay attention. There’s nothing worse than when your child says, “Mom, did you see that?!” and you didn’t because you were reading a book or playing a game on your phone.
Do: Remember, you are their first coach
You may know nothing about the sport your child is playing, but you are still your child’s most important coach. The way you approach their sport will influence how they play. Be positive, be encouraging, and above all, be calm.
Don’t: Use “reverse psychology”
I once had a girl on one of my teams whose dad would say to her before every at bat, “I bet you won’t hit it.” She didn’t understand what her dad was doing, and would say to me, “My daddy doesn’t think I can get a hit.” It broke my heart.
Do: Ask them questions
On my softball teams, I’ve found that most of the time the girls don’t need me to tell them what they did wrong. Instead of immediately pointing out mistakes, I instead will say something like, “What do you think happened there?” Nine times out of 10, the girl will tell me, and I’ll reply, “You’re right! Let’s work on that for next time!” Even little mistakes can be turned into something positive.
Don’t: Scream at them about errors.
Seriously. ESPECIALLY if you’re in the stands. Your kid knows they made a mistake and doesn’t need you emphasizing it. Let the coach handle it, and tell your child that they’ll get it next time.
Do: Tell them how much you love watching them play
I constantly tell my daughter how much I enjoy watching her… even when I’m tired of watching drills, or I’m freezing on the sidelines. I want her to know that simply watching her play is enough for me, and if she has an amazing game? That’s just icing on the cake.
Don’t: Forget to have fun
If your child isn’t having fun playing sports, it’s time to evaluate why they’re playing. Youth sports are an incredibly important part of growing up, and provide a ton of learning experiences, but if your child is miserable, none of that matters.