As a parent, I place much value in the lessons learned while playing sports. Discipline, team work, effort, setting goals…all of these things and more can be easily taught and developed while playing sports. If you’re wise, you’ll take every opportunity to translate what happens while playing sports into lessons for life. After all, when it comes to things your job, or your marriage, or your finances – the lessons learned and worked through while an adolescent can translate into valuable resources when you’re an adult.
I’ve witnessed, though, a side effect in youth sports that is both pathetic and sad that affects every single person involved in youth sports – parents who feel the need to “play the game” through their child.
I’ve witnessed it in youth baseball. I’ve seen it, too, in other youth team & individual sports. It’s the mom or dad who is so intense and whose behavior is so unpleasant – actually, obnoxious – that every one else’s experience is ruined, sometimes to extremes.
Here are 5 ways to know if you’re playing the game through your child. There may be more, but these are things I’ve experienced both in my behavior and in the behavior of others.
1. You’re too competitive. This is a win-at-all-costs mentality. You’ll do anything to make sure your player is successful and performs better than those around him. This means more practice, more games, more gadgets and lessons at the expense of time and money, just so your player can get better – no, be the best – than any other player out there.
2. You brag way too much on your player. It’s one thing to be a proud parent, yet it’s another to extol the merits of your player so much so that people find it tiresome and offensive. If your player is good, people know it. You don’t have to tell them. Besides, it embarrasses your child.
3. You’ve been angry. This is shown in a couple of ways. First, you’ve shown anger at your player for not performing well, or practicing hard enough, or not doing it right. Second, you’ve expressed anger toward your child’s teammates or opponents because they performed better, or had more success over the course of the season. The anger you feel is the result of a feeling of failure on your part, and on the part of your player.
4. You have unrealistic expectations. Your child is in the process of developing physically over the course of being a child and teenager. Some things are just not possible until they mature. Incessant practice and repetition won’t make it better. It’ll just make your child dread the sport they’re playing.
Too, your player may not be the kind of player you think he is. His ability to make a certain team, or be chosen for an all star team could be because, well, your player isn’t that good. So, when your player doesn’t get chosen, you get angry…see #3.
5. You’re a bully. When your player doesn’t perform, or doesn’t want to practice, you become a bully. Your anger and disappointment manifests itself in ugly words and actions, and guilt. This is almost a sure-fire way to make your child hate the game, and resent you.
Encouraging your child to participate in sports is a good thing. And, providing every opportunity for them to be their best is a noble thing as well. As a parent, though, you have to discern whether the desire to play a sport is your child’s or yours. And, if your child is passionate about the game, enjoy it with him.
Otherwise, leave your own desires and memories of what you were locked away in the recesses of your mind. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.