(This is adapted from WFAN’s Sports Edge, originally broadcast on December 30, 2012)
On today’s show, I thought I’d offer something of a clinic on sports parenting…as you know, we tend to discuss issues and topics that are ripped from the headlines, but every so often, I like to go in a different direction…and offer some suggestions and insights on how you can become the very best sports parent you can be.
And to that end, I’ve come up with a list of seven patterns of behavior that you might find helpful with your youngster who is involved in sports….I’m going to call these Seven items – with full apologies to the late Steven Covey – the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sports Parents…
Number One: Let your child lead you….
In terms of what sport or sports your child wants to play…bear in mind that it may be a sport that you have little personal background in, have little expertise in, and have little interest in…BUT that’s not the point.
It’s supposed to be about YOUR youngster, and if they are attracted to certain sports that you didn’t play or don’t follow, well, that’s okay. It just means you have to spend a little time learning about those sports.
NOW…that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your child to explore other sports. And indeed you should, When they are just starting out in athletics, you want to expose them to a variety of sports, whether it be soccer, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, etc.
Example: my wife and I have three kids, and when they were growing up, they were immediately attracted to such sports as soccer, ice hockey, lax, and swimming.
When I was a kid, I played football, baseball, and basketball…I knew about ice hockey, but I never learned how to skate, and thus never played. Soccer didn’t exist in my town, nor did swimming or lax.
So when my kids wanted to play soccer, I found myself going to the local library to learn about the rules and traditions of the game. Tried to learn about and figure out the offside rule. Learned about different offensive formations in soccer.
When I went to watch my older daughter play HS lax, one day I was standing off to the side of the field when a ref came over and told me I had to move. I thought I was far from the action and behind the sidelines, but she told me that I had to move because there were no sidelines in girls’ lax.
I guess I had never read about that rule. But I should have.
You get the idea. If you want to be supportive and encouraging of your child in whatever sport they play, be proactive and take the time to learn the sport with them.
Habit #2: Be Encouraging…know how to pick your spots with your child
All kids love praise. These days….they want it, expect it, and at times, they get angry if they don’t get it.
As the proud sports parent, you need to praise and support your child at all times. However, the key to effective and meaningful sports praise is to be very specific….
Don’t just give them a generic “Great game!” or “Nice job!”…that’s meaningless.
You want to prove to your youngster that not only were you paying close attention at their game, but that you were especially impressed with a particular play. So, tell them: “You know that deke move you made at the end of the first period? That was something special.” Or…”I was especially impressed with that amazing pass you made on that fast break late in the game.”
Kids LOVE that kind of detail…and often, once you start the conversation on that tone, they will immediately start to discuss the event in detail with you. That’s a win-win.
Habit #3: Don’t Be Afraid of Adversity for Your Child…
Every top athlete who I have ever worked with has encountered adversity at some point in their career…I just don’t mean they lost a big game. I mean they were cut from a team..or a coach didn’t think they were very good…or they were injured and had to sit out for a long time…
You talk to any pro athlete, and I guarantee you that they will all have their own stories of failures, setbacks – in short, adversity. Nobody gets through a successful athletic career without experiencing setbacks.
But what the top athletes do that most of the others DON’T do is that they persevere…that is, they just don’t give up. They feel sorry for themselves for a day or two, but then they resolve themselves to work harder, to get better, to improve…
That’s how adversity can be used to make youngster into a better and stronger athlete.
Parents need to understand this. It’s a delicate conversation with your child… BUT you have to be careful not to transform yourself into the ultimate helicopter parent who intervenes with the coach and complains.
In the long run, that doesn’t help your child. Better yet, what a wonderful feeling to see your youngster working at their game, practicing on their own, motivated by their own sense of drive and purpose.
If there’s one major takeway from sports, it’s probably this…how to teach your child how to rely upon oneself to deal with setbacks and adversity. Yes, it’s painful – no one wants to see their kid fail. But in the grand scheme of life, it’s also a vital lesson.
Habit # 4: Learn how to communicate WELL with your athlete
This means that as your child grows and gets a little older, you will begin to sense that he or she has their own unique way of both getting ready for a game, and also a distinct style as to how they relax after a game.
What I mean is that many sports parents – knowing full well that their youngster has a big game today – will take it upon themselves to give their young athlete a kind of pre-game pep talk. “Make sure you hustle back on defense”….”don’t waste any open shots”…”these opponents today are good….you need to bring your A game.”
Stuff like this basically is a way for an eager sports parent to blow off their own pre-game anxiety. But instead of helping the child, it only makes them more nervous.
So what do you do? Say very little. Let your child talk. If they have questions, let them ask you. Again, let them lead the way.
Think back – when you were a kid playing sports, did your Dad give you pre-game pep talks? Probably not.
On the way home, avoid the PGA…the Post Game Analysis. Don’t make this common mistake. Let the kid bask in the afterglow of the competition. There’s no need for you to give them a break-down of the game.
Habit # 5: Utilize the Praise Sandwich
Parents ask: so, if I can’t do a PGA, how do I get my constructive criticism to my kid? The Praise Sandwich is the best way…
You’ve heard me describe this before…but trust me, it works…
During a quiet moment in the evening…let’s say your kid plays basketball and has become something of a ball hog…that is, they don’t pass and they likes to shoot.
First, a thin slice of praise:
It’s remarkable how good you’ve become at shooting the ball…that’s a great step forward.
Then, a bit of constructive criticism…
But as you score more and more, teams are going to start to double-team you….and if you can learn how to dish the ball off to open teammates…
And now the final bit of praise…you’ll become pretty much a complete force…now only can you shoot but you can also pass.
That’s all you have to say…don’t lean on it…give them a few days for the words to sink in…and then see what happens.
Habit # 6: Use a Third-Party Influencer When Needed
Sometimes, a parent will tell me that their youngster really won’t listen anymore to them – that the kid disregards the positive feedback that’s being given to them by the parent.
When that happens, I occasionally ask the Mom or Dad if there’s a third party who can be approached. For example, is there a friend of the family, or perhaps an older HS student, or even a neighbor who – very much on the sly – can be approached to act as an intermediary?
By that, I mean the athlete’s parent goes up to the third party, and explains to him that the youngster needs to hear some positive feedback. In short, it’s much more meaningful when the high praise comes from a third party outsider as opposed to Mom and Dad.
Again, you have to be careful about this approach…but trust me, when a young athlete is told by an outsider that he or she is really making tremendous progress, or is really developing into a terrific athlete, that kind of praise can really serve as a rocket fuel to a kid’s confidence.
Habit # 7: What’s the Overall Takeaway?
Is it all about just getting a college scholarship? Or turning pro?
I hope not…if it is, then you’ll be missing out on those joyous moments in your child’s sports career…moments that can, and should be, shared by the family.
But if you focus solely on the long-range goal of a college scholarship, then these magical moments will go by relatively unnoticed – as though they are merely expected – rather than to be celebrated.
There’s nothing wrong with when your son or daughter have a big game than to let them know that they are to be proud of all of the hard work and effort they put into mastering their skills…that these kinds of accomplishments are to be reflected upon, and cherished by them.
As parents and as adults, we know that there’s only a limited number of years that a youngster can learn, grow, and develop in sports, and when they have that big game – they score a winning goal…or they tackle the opposing ball carrier on a crucial goal-line stand…or they make the perfect pass….it’s important for them to keep that memory burnished in their mind’s eye for a good long time.
And as their parent, you need – -actually want – to take a moment or two to let them know how wonderful that feeling is.
Sports are about feeling good about oneself…about living in the moment…and about sharing those special moments with teammates, coaches, and of course, one’s family.
That’s what we should be striving for as successful sports parents.