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It’s the child’s desire to play that matters

Shaun GoodsellDon’t force your kids into sports. I never was.
To this day, my dad has never asked me to go play golf.
I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters,
not the parent’s desire to have the child play.
Fun. Keep it fun.

~Tiger Woods

Over the last ten years I have immersed myself in the youth sports culture.  This has included investing hundreds and possibly thousands of hours interviewing athletes, coaches and the many adult volunteers that invest significant hours attempting to make youth sports an enjoyable and life changing experience. Without a doubt one of the resounding themes permeating these interactions has been the destructive involvement of some parents. Because of the sheer number of times I have been faced with this issue I feel it very important to write about this challenge in an attempt to shield many kids from this huge and complicated problem in youth sports.

I would like to start by defining the essence of the problem as I see it. It starts, in my mind, with parents that love their children deeply. As a parent myself, I know that I want my children to succeed. I want them to be treated fairly, never have a “bad” experience and be given many opportunities to develop their skills as well as utilize these skills in a game situation.

Because of our love for our children we can easily step into their experience desiring to “help” them have the best possible experience. However, stepping in usually means we have come to believe that our child is being treated in a way that is “hurting” them and we want to stop that. In most cases we simply disagree with something being done and there is no significant harm being done to the child and we have entangled ourselves now in a way that makes it real difficult to stay objective. I believe most often our kids need to learn to deal with less-than-perfect treatment that often makes up many youth sports experiences by learning to control their own experiences through mental toughness principles. Once we have determined the coach is not doing a good job and our kid is negatively impacted we have begun a parent verses coach relationship, which often is felt by the child.  Kids are going to want to stay aligned with the parent leaving the coach with a difficult, often-impossible job to coach that kid without impairment. Now the experience has been contaminated without much possibility of repair.

When we as parents get involved in an attempt to manipulate the experience of our children, we unintentionally teach them that they are helpless and often begin to alienate ourselves, as well as their coaches, from our children. Most kids report to me that they wish their parents would just stay out of it often experiencing embarrassment because of the behavior they see in their parents.

In summary, we exhibit destructive involvement when we step into our kid’s sports experience in an attempt to manipulate their experience because we believe they are being harmed in some way. In attempting to change the experience most of the time our kids our embarrassed leading to an inner tension that reduces the enjoyment of the sport.

Lastly, there may be times where parent involvement is needed in an attempt to right a severe wrong. In my experience this makes up only five percent of the cases. Many parents over catastrophize situations leading to actions that ends up negatively impacting not only their child’s experience but also the experience of many children.

If you are a parent that would like some tips on how to truly help your children here are some ideas. First, spend more energy helping your kids manage difficult situations as opposed to trying to fix them for them. This will not only help your kids in the present situation but is a great skill to learn for their future. Second, keep your disappointment with your kids coach to yourself. There is no value in sharing it with your kids it only results in inner tension that makes it difficult to talk about their experience. Last, be grateful for those that take the time to coach. They invest significant time and receive little training and most are doing the best they can and need your encouragement.

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Copyright © 2019 Shaun Goodsell