Our boys love to run, jump, climb, and pretty much do anything to make a mother worry. So it seemed only natural to get them started in sports early to direct that energy somewhere. Our oldest has participated in soccer, basketball, track & field, and baseball. Last year was the first year that we had both of them playing in soccer and baseball, and though it is a little chaotic at times, it sure is fun to watch. We want those early years of sports to be about fun and learning the fundamentals of the sport, plus all the extra benefits, like learning teamwork and being a good sport. Both my husband and I played sports growing up, and now, my husband is a high school coach, so it’s only natural that he is a proponent of getting kids involved in athletics at an early age. That said, there are certainly things to consider on the parent side of athletics that can benefit or hurt the child.
Let the Kids Choose
We’ve asked the boys if they want to play the sports before signing up. Considering sign up is generally a couple months before the season starts, hopefully they’ll still have an interest when it does start. Just recently soccer started, and although I know my oldest loved playing last year and definitely said he wanted to play again when I asked, when it came time for the first practice, he had a bit of a meltdown, saying he didn’t want to. I knew he’d have fun once there and told him he had to play this season, but if he didn’t want to play next year, he needed to tell me that before it was time to register. Of course, I was right and he had fun at practice. Though our kids are still young, our policy will certainly be that they have to finish a season before quitting (barring any extreme circumstances) so they don’t let the team down. If a parent forces their child to play a sport when they are younger, they will likely only continue to hate it.
It amazes me how many sports have gone to competitive, year-long travel squads. If your child is really into the sport and really wants to play it the most, that’s great. However, encourage them to participate in other sports as well. There are major benefits to being a multi-sport athlete, and it is, in fact, encouraged by most coaches, so athletes do not face overuse injuries, get bored, or feel pressured to succeed. Plus, it keeps kids in shape all year, which is setting up healthy, active lifestyles for their future. My husband coaches cross country and track & field and encourages the athletes to be multi-sport athletes, and often shares articles like this with them. Sure, it would be cool if our kids went on to play in college or went pro in some sport, but for most kids, that’s not a reality, and even if they did, being a multi-sport athlete is beneficial. In fact, this article says that 30 of the 32 first-round NFL draft picks in 2017 were multi-sport athletes in high school.
Let the kids try out lots of sports, even ones you are not a fan of. My husband really dislikes soccer, but both boys play it currently. Let them choose which sports they want to continue in as they get older, and encourage them to do more than one, as well as be involved in some other extracurriculars to be a well-rounded student-athlete. Remember, student comes first. Some wise parents I know told their children that in high school they had to play at least one sport and be involved in at least one academic activity, which is a good starting place for all kids.
Be Involved and Be Supportive
As high school teachers and coaches ourselves, we definitely understand what it means to be busy. But we’ve also managed to find the time to work with our own children’s athletics because we know without parent help, volunteer organizations like Dad’s Club and Little League cannot happen. As a two-sport high school coach, my husband cannot commit to being a head coach for little kids at this time, but he has helped out with basketball and baseball for our oldest. This year, I coached tee-ball with my youngest. And let me tell you, I definitely chose the right age to teach because those four to six-year-olds are a bundle of energy.
Being involved with teams can give you a new perspective to see what happens on the coaching side of things, as well as see your child in a new light. Coaches have their reason for doing things, so we as parents need to not question every move a coach makes. If you need reasoning for a decision, by all means ask, but be sure to ask politely and not critically. Maybe coaching isn’t for you, so instead offer to be a team parent to organize drinks and snacks for the team or to sit on the bench with the kids who aren’t on the field during the game. If nothing else, be sure your child’s coach knows you appreciate the time they have put in to help your child as an athlete.
Above all, be supportive of your kids in sports. It’s upsetting for me to hear parents yelling at their little kid for a mistake on the field while the game is happening, and I can only imagine how the child feels. Certainly after a game or meet, have a calm discussion with your child on what went well and what can be improved upon. Because in the end, I think we are all just hoping our children learn life-long skills that will benefit them beyond sports, rather than a pro-athlete.