Be a Good Sports Parent

Support your kids so they'll find success, and fun, in sports.

Good sports parent - dad and son celebrating at baseball game
Blend Images - Kevin Dodge / Getty Images

Being a good sports parent is like being a good school parent. To make sure your kids get the most out of their participation, you need to participate, too. Being involved, in a positive way, means you provide encouragement, support, and practical help.

You volunteer, if you can, and you back up the coach's (or teacher's) decisions and lessons. You create an environment in which your kid can succeed, and then you step back and let him do the hard work.

In short, you're a team player, no matter the sport.

Be a Good Sports Parent: Show Support

Your child can't play without your active support—that means financial, logistical, and emotional. Having kids involved in youth sports can really tax your family schedule along with your wallet, so this is a tough one.

There's no need to hide the truth (that this is hard stuff sometimes) from your child, especially if she is old enough to understand the trade-offs involved. But it's also important to reassure your child that you support her efforts and are proud of them, even if you don't enjoy waking up at 5 a.m. to drive her to practice. 

Being supportive doesn't have to mean you watch every practice (especially those early morning ones!). It doesn't even mean attending every game or meet. This often is impossible if you have more than one kid! But it's meaningful to make the time to watch your child play in competition whenever you can.

And remember, being fully present also means keeping your phone in your pocket or purse.

Providing strong emotional support can even protect your child from burnout, if it's done right. The goal is to make sure your child knows you love him no matter what—not make him feel pressure to perform to please you.

This sounds obvious, but isn't always easy to do. Some kids need you to really spell things out for them: "I'm so proud of you even when you fall. I love to watch you play." Other kids give and receive love in other ways. You'll know what works best for your child.

Be a Good Sports Parent: Be Informed and Be Real

When you know more about the game your child loves, you can follow the action and provide more meaningful help. You might even enjoy your time in the bleachers more!

Read up on the sport and talk to veteran parents. They can help you with game basics, equipment questions, team and coaching options, and more. It's also important to know the rules of the team, league, gym, etc. Then make sure your child follows them. There's almost nothing worse than a parent who thinks the rules don't apply to his or her child.

Good sports parents are clear-eyed about what their child can do through sports. Not every youth sports athlete can go pro, win a college scholarship, or be the best on the team.

Being positive doesn't have to mean being unrealistic. Expectations that go way overboard can put undue pressure on your kid.

Know that she'll still gain a great deal from her participation, even if she doesn't take home a trophy every time. Maybe even especially if she doesn't.

Be a Good Sports Parent: Provide Helpful Feedback

You'll boost your child's self-esteem and help him master new skills when you can give good advice. The most productive feedback is both detailed and positive. Try statements like:

  • "You really hustled after the ball today."
  • "That was a great pass to Will in the third quarter."
  • "I noticed how you really tried to keep your legs straight just like your coach suggested." 

However, sometimes it's best not to offer these comments immediately after a game. Not every player will enjoy reviewing his performance right away, especially if he was on the losing side. Yet it's often helpful for your athlete to have a sounding board so he can discuss events when he's ready. This could mean later that evening or in the next few days. Follow your child's lead. Listening between the lines may help you identify problems that you could try to help with, such as anxiety, bullying, or even an undiagnosed injury.

When things do go wrong, whether it's bad luck, a bad call, or just plain old bad play, your role is to help your child deal with the disappointment—but also learn from it. Your empathy, along with helping your child find and make a positive change, builds resilience. And that's a skill your child can use on and off the playing field, for many years to come.

Be a Good Sports Parent: Be a Role Model

Your young athletes need to keep their bodies in good shape to perform well and reduce the risk of injury. Through words and deeds, you can help them do this: Eat healthy foods and serve them to your family (and the team—try these healthy half-time snacks). Exercise regularly and talk about how it makes you feel stronger and more energetic. You might even work out together, help them practice drills, or have them teach you some of what they have learned about their chosen sports.

You can also be a role model to other parents. You know the crazy sports parents we hear so much about? As a good sports parent, you can help promote sportsmanship from the sidelines and in the stands.

Be respectful of your child; her teammates, coach, and opponents; the officials; and the game itself, its rules and traditions. You can even help lead the conversations that might help us fix youth sports and make it better for our kids.

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