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Conventional wisdom tells us to focus on the things that we can change, not on the things we can’t. In youth sports, that’s a tough one for parents because there’s a heck of a lot that we can’t change. Swimming upstream may describe how you feel when facing the frustrations, negativity, and seeming unfairness that you and your child encounter.
The biggest thing that you can change is your attitude. However, it is not easy to simply stop thinking one way and start thinking another. Instead of doing a 180 in your thinking, try a few simple mind shifts that will help you see things a bit differently as your child plays and, as a result, give both of you a better experience.
Shift from NOW to TOMORROW
I’m all for living in the present and enjoying the moment, but there are times when sports parents get too caught up in the NOW. The result is that the immediate — this game, this season, even this year — drowns out the importance of the long-term.
As a parent, it’s important to ask yourself what kind of person you want your child to be when they are adults and then remember the end goal every day. Each time your child faces a trying situation, ask yourself what your child can learn from this to be a stronger and wiser person long-term.
Focus on Listening and Asking, Less on Telling
Kids are being told things all day long, whether it’s at home, school, work or practice. What would happen if sports parents slowly shifted from talking all the time to listening more? Maybe now you talk 70%, listen 30%. What if you were to start adjusting that to 60/40, then maybe 50/50, or even 40/ 60?
If you start to make that shift, it will be important to ask questions that allow your child to open up. Listen fully, avoid judging, and respond thoughtfully. This shift will allow you to understand your child better and give you insight on how to help them through tough situations.
Look for More Victories, Less Mistakes
Unfortunately, in youth sports, it seems like adults key in on the negative easier than they do the positive. I’ve heard that people train themselves to look for negative without even meaning to. If that’s the case, then why can you not train yourself to start looking for more positive?
We told our kids there is always something to celebrate. Little victories are in every game if you look hard enough, even in defeat. What if you committed to find 3-5 little victories in your child’s next game and share those with them on the car ride home?
Dealing with mistakes should not be ignored, of course, but that is mostly the coach’s job and perhaps yours if your child asks.
Maybe you’ve heard the story about the child who comes into the kitchen and critiques how Mom is cooking, telling her she’s taking too long and making too big of a mess. Not a word about how good it smells or how they can’t wait to taste it. Not too encouraging, is it?
Shift from Your Happiness to Your Child’s
Many of the frustrations that sports parents feel are rooted in the fact that their own expectations are not being met. Their child is not playing enough or playing the position they want or getting the recognition they deserve. But youth sports is not about how the parents feel, it’s about how the young athletes feel.
Your goal is to focus on what’s best for the long-term growth of your child and on their happiness, and sometimes that means that you have to push your expectations aside.
“Our greatest battles are those within our minds.”
This quote by artist Jameson Frank confirms the truth that the biggest challenge you face as a sports parent is not on the court or field, it’s in your mind and heart. Start these shifts this season and see what happens.