9 Tips on How Not to Fail as a Sports Parent

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Seniors!

Sports are so great for our kids. They keep our kids active, socializing, learning new skills and life lessons. Unfortunately, some parents take the fun out of sports by not following the list of nine tips  I read in Psychology Today by  Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D. In fact, if you’re tired of driving to practice and games or meets, try to do the opposite of the nine tips and your kids will be back on the couch in no time!

In an article posted a few years ago in Psychology Today called “Moms and Dads; How to help your son or daughter get the most out of sports” he has a list of nine tips that make a lot of sense:

“There’s no set formula, but the guidelines below are designed to increase the chances of producing favorable results.

ONE

Set a good example of an active person

TWO

Let kids participate in determining when they are ready for sports.

THREE

Give priority to your child’s own interests.

FOUR

Don’t use sports as a babysitter.

FIVE

Emphasize the process of enjoyment rather than the product of winning.

SIX

Emphasize striving to improve skills rather than comparing oneself with others.

SEVEN

Establish and maintain open lines of communication.

EIGHT

Evaluate your child’s coach.

NINE

Don’t live your dreams through your children.”

Of course, he goes into more detail on each point, but the basic list is helpful. For example, if you’re not moving and don’t value exercise like “number one” says, then your kids aren’t going to think it’s of much value to exercise either.

In “number eight on the list,” evaluating the coach, Smoll asks the following questions:

“Parents should talk to the coach, regularly go to games, and occasionally attend a practice. Additionally, they should ask themselves the following questions:

Are the young athletes treated with respect?

Are they being taught?

Are they given a chance to perform?

Are they made to feel what they’re doing is a fun activity?

If not, it may be necessary to find another team for your child.”

 The National Alliance for Youth Sports, did a stury and found that around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” We can be one of the major reasons why the fun disappears. If you’re more into than your kids, then chances are they’ll be part of that 70 percent.

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In it for the long haul.

What can you do to become a successful sport parent?

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We can teach our kids to be good sports

 

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Open Water Nats–being good sports after a close 5k race.

Nobody likes a sore loser and I think it’s even worse to have a gloating winner. In an article on CNN called “If I Were a Parent: Teaching kids to be good sports” by Kelly Wallace, the number one way to teach good sportsmanship is through role modeling.

“Losing is not easy for many kids, and being a graceful winner can in some ways be even harder, so the question becomes: what can parents do to teach their children good sportsmanship?

“Rule No. 1 seems simple enough but is too often overlooked by helicopter parents who are living vicariously through their children. Parents should model the behavior they want to see in their kids, said John O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”

“Kids are not very good at listening, but they are fantastic at imitating,” said O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, which says it seeks to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “

“And so if you want your kids to display good sportsmanship, you should. If you don’t want your kids to yell at referees, you shouldn’t yell at referees.”

The article goes on to talk about the flip side, lousy winners:

“And as for teaching your child how to win and win gracefully, remind them how it felt when they were on the losing side. “The biggest thing that I always say to my team when you’re winning by a lot is, ‘you know what, you’ve been on the other side of it where you’ve lost by a lot. Do you remember how that felt? So don’t do anything that’s going to make your opponent feel any worse right now,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

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Cheering on a teammate.

What do we mean when we talk about being a good sport? It’s easy to point out kids and parents who aren’t. They are mean, rude, usually loud and they do not care about how they affect those around them. Parents who are bad sports are causing fights these days with coaches and landing in jail! With social media catching every incident of bad parent behavior, it seems like it’s happening more frequently, but I haven’t seen any stats to know if that true or not.

Being a good sport is simple. It’s treating others with respect. It’s not talking badly about others behind their backs or throwing your equipment down. I remember when my brother was on the golf team in high school, there was a player that broke their golf clubs more than once when they lost. Staying composed and not getting too caught up in the moment helps us be better role models. In our kids’ sports, the process is just as important–or more so–than winning.

I think another important element in teaching good sportsmanship, besides being good role models, is to compliment our kids when you see them being a good sport. In swimming after races, you often see swimmers reaching over lane lines to hug the winner or you see the winner reaching out to competitors to shake hands. When you see your child being a good sport, point it out and say you’re proud of them. If you see other kids showing good sportsmanship, be sure to tell your child how much you admire them for their actions.

How do you teach your children good sportsmanship?

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My daughter showing good sportsmanship.

 

What lessons do sports parents learn?

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The fight song at the end of one of my daughter’s college dual meets. Go UTES!

“Lessons learned from 27 years of youth sports parenting” by Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone hit a spot in my soul. He shared many of the highlights of his years of sports parenting with his children. Like he said in his column, they had no idea how youth sports would take over their families lives when they first began the ride. We too tried a variety of sports and then settled on swimming for both our children. Before we knew it, we were all hooked, and swimming filled up our lives.

A few days before the first swim meet ever, we received a call from the president of our team’s board. He said we needed to sign up to help during the meet. They needed timers or help in the snack bar. What? We were shocked. Then, he said that afterward, the entire team stayed to tear down the meet.

I said, “We have family visiting from Seattle.”

He said, “They’re welcome to help, too.”

The phone calls persisted and finally, my husband said, “I’m sorry but we have a life!”

Roll forward a few years and I was serving on the board, writing press releases, creating fliers to promote the team and writing the team newsletter. My husband became meet manager and had to call parents to help at meets, before he took on the role of president of the board. Add our volunteering to the fact that we were taking our kids to the pool six days a week, plus meets, 50 weeks a year–and yes sports parenting took over our lives for a few years.

Here’s part of the great column by Larry Stone that got me a little teary eyed. Especially since my last official year as a swim mom ended this year:

Take it from Larry Stone, who has learned a few lessons over 27 years of youth sports parenting: There are a few tricky or annoying aspects of your offspring’s sports participation, but mostly, you’re going to want to savor it before it goes by in an instant.

It was way back in 1991 when my oldest daughter, Jessica, signed up for a 6-and-under Bobby Sox softball team in Oakland, Calif., where we were living at the time.

It was a delightful season of fun, growth and bonding, though it soon became apparent that Jess was not destined to be a slugger like Dave Henderson of her beloved A’s. To be fair, she did hit a grand slam (of the Little League variety) in her final at-bat, as Jessica, now 32 and married, reminded me on Tuesday.

I didn’t realize at the time that our family was stepping timidly into a world that would at times dominate our lives, and certainly became a focal point of family logistics for more than a quarter century.

Naturally, I’ve been reflecting about the good times and the bad as a youth-sports parent (and fortunately, we had far more of the former). I thought I’d present some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years – some of them the hard way.

• A few of the coaches you’ll encounter will be ego-driven tyrants who think they’re the next Belichick or Auriemma as they micro-manage pre-teens. Far more will be kind, supportive and motivated by the simple desire to make your child a better player without bruising his or her psyche in the process.

• Throw the words “select,” “premier” or “elite” in front of a sports program, and there’s no end to the amount of effort (and money) we parents will put forth to get our kid into it.

• There’s a dire need to make youth athletics less about select, premier and elite, and more about fun, participation and recreation.

• If your overriding goal for youth sports is a Division I scholarship, you need to rethink your priorities. First of all, it’s probably not going to happen – that’s just the stark reality. Second of all, you’re likely to spend so much money in that pursuit that it negates the value of what in most cases would be a partial scholarship anyway. And third of all, if your kid has the talent, it will emerge clearly and emphatically on its own. In other words, pay for the camps, clinics, showcases and recruiting videos if you’d like, but be aware that the payoff is not likely to be what you think.

• Burnout is the scourge of youth sports, and specialization is the single biggest source of burnout. Particularly at the younger levels, diversify, don’t specialize!

• Overwrought and demanding parents are now, were then, and will continue to be the bane of youth sports, perpetually pushing the line between concerned involvement and crazed entitlement.

• Some of the best friends and people I’ve ever met are youth-sports parents who set the finest examples of how to positively support, encourage and nurture your child’s athletic career. And some of the best parenting advice, perspective and support I ever got came from people I sat with in the bleachers — the ones with older kids who had been here and done this, and the ones struggling through the same developmental hiccups that were keeping me up at night.

There’s more to the article and I suggest you read every bit of it. I agree with Stone that some of my best friends I met on our team and from other teams throughout Southern California. Our friendships have lasted through the years. I got great advice from parents of older kids, and commiserated with the ones with kids the same ages as mine. Of course, there were those crazy parents who caused so much stress—but they were few and far between. And we had our own crazy moments ourselves but learned from our mistakes.

I learned more about parenting on deck that went far beyond the pool—like which teachers were the best, about SAT testing, college recruiting and more. In return, I’ve talked with parents with younger kids and hope I can be as helpful as those who helped me.

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The team cheer during the age group years.

If your sports parenting days are over, what do you miss about it? What are your favorite things about being involved in youth sports?

What are the worst sports parenting mistakes?

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I was listening to a webinar from “Growing Champions for Life” sports parenting expert David Benzel and he went through a list of nine of the worst sports parenting mistakes. It was during a talk about whether to push our kids in sports–or not.

Who is David Benzel? He’s a former sports parent himself, whose kids were athletic, loved their sports and made it to the pros—as he says—in spite of him. He felt like kids were coached in sports, but felt he was sorely lacking in knowledge about being a sports parent. He said that he and his wife changed throughout the years and now he coaches sports parents in many different sports including gymnasts, tennis, baseball and swimming.

I discovered Benzel on USA Swimming and have read his book from Chump to Champ, plus I have several copies of his little booklet “5 Powerful Strategies for Sport Parent Success” lying around the house in case I need a refresher.

I too changed through the years as I learned from my swim mom mistakes. I continued to grow as a parent, and looking back there are many things I’d never dream of doing today that I thought were perfectly normal years ago.

The list of 9 awful things sports parents do that Benzel presented was from the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. 

Here’s the list:

ONE
Exhibit an outcome orientation.

TWO
Are critical, negative and overbearing.

THREE
Apply pressure to win or perform.

FOUR
Make sport too serious.

FIVE
Are over-involved and controlling.

SIX
Compare child to other athletes.

SEVEN
Distract child during competitions.

EIGHT
Restrict player’s social life.

NINE
Too much sports talk.

Between me and my hubby, I think we’ve got this list covered. We’ve been guilty of every single one on the list.482023_4501677623832_667860262_n

How many on this list have you done? What are things you’ve done in the past as a parent that you wouldn’t do now?

Memories of some fun at swim meets

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My daughter and Piranha friends.

I asked a couple of my fellow swim moms about why we like swim meets — or what makes a swim great. Of course, the number one reason is when our kids are happy and do well. Then we started reminiscing about meets and what great memories we have from them. I’ve written about my favorite swim meet moments before—but here are a couple more:

ONE
When we drove all over Los Angeles looking for a vuvuzela for our son. He wanted to cheer on all his teammates at Junior Olympics. We drove from Santa Clarita where we were at a meet to Orange County where we had another meet. We finally found the vuvuzela in between in Los Angeles. It was the year the vuvuzela was making a big splash during World Cup Soccer. Within a few hours of my son cheering on his teammates with the blasting horn, other teams started complaining. And then the vuvuzela was “accidentally” broken. We blamed a parent on another team, but my daughter told me today that it was a parent on our own team!

TWO
I’ll never forget seeing Dianne Keaton, fellow swim mom and actress extraordinaire, in the bathroom at the same Junior Olympics meet in Mission Viejo. She was dressed in her comfortable Annie Hall style complete with the hat. I returned to our team’s pop-up tent and a swim dad was asking “who’s that actress, you know the one….” Finally, someone said “Dianne Keaton.” The dad went on to say, “Well I saw this lady here that looks just like Dianne Keaton. I told her she looked like a famous actress, and she said, ‘I’m Dianne Keaton’.” The dad argued with her about it, “No you’re not.” She asked if he wanted a selfie with her, and he refused! Wow. Was he embarrassed when we all said at once, “It IS Dianne Keaton!”

THREE
One of my kids’ teammates brought a little electrical hand-held disc game called Catchphrase to a June Age Group Championship meet at La Mirada. The kids sat under the pop-up tent, playing the game for hours on end while waiting for their events. Then, back at the hotel where most families were staying, we kept on playing into the night—parents included. I’ll always remember that meet as one of the most fun.

FOUR
We were in Moreno Valley at a meet Mother’s Day weekend, and it began hailing! My daughter and her friends were swimming the 200 back and during their heat, the officials cleared the pool because of thunder and lightning. It took forever to get the swimmers attention and get them to exit the pool. My daughter and a few friends sat in the back of our Sequoia drinking chocolate milk and singing loudly with the radio for an hour—waiting for the storm to pass.

Looking back on the age group swimming days, there are no bad memories. When things looked awful or stressful at the time, I can laugh about now.

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My kids with their teammates.

What are some of your favorite youth sports memories with your kids?

How do you encourage kids to be champions?

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Junior Olympics third-place relay team.

The third time is the charm. The book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Carol. S. Dweck, Ph.D. Stanford University, was recommended to me three times. First, by a long-time coach, Tim Hill. Second, I heard about it in a webinar by David Benzel from Growing Champions for Life. Third, my son’s employer gave him the book on his first day at work and he said I had to read it. So, I finally did. I highly recommend that you read it, too.

Mindset is packed full of studies, research and entertaining stories about students, parents, teachers—and well-known musicians, coaches and athletes. In one chapter called, “Sports: The Mindset of a Champion,” I learned about the growth mindsets of tremendous athletes such as Michael Jordan and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. In another chapter called “Parents, Teachers and Coaches: Where do Mindsets Come From?” it described the differences in mindsets of two college basketball coaches—John Wooden and Bob Knight.

Dweck explained fixed versus growth mindsets: “In one world—the world of fixed traits—success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other—the world of changing qualities—it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.

“People in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch. And nowhere can it be seen more clearly than in the world of sports. You can just watch people stretch and grow.”

Although people are usually a mixture of both mindsets, since mindsets are beliefs, they can be changed. We should encourage our kids to have growth mindsets because they will thrive in the long run by learning how to work harder and smarter. They won’t be afraid of a challenge and they will persevere.

If we constantly tell our kids how smart or how athletically gifted they are, we are giving them a fixed mindset. That means they will believe in their innate talent, and that hard work will label them as NOT talented. When things get harder, they will not rise to the challenge. They will lose interest or go back to finding something easier for them, so they can still be recognized as being a “genius” or “gifted athlete.”

What we should do is recognize our kids’ hard work. We need to tie in the process they go through to achievement. If we notice our children are working hard, but not achieving the success they desire, maybe they aren’t using the right strategies. We can help them try a new method.

The best teachers and coaches are ones with growth mindsets. They haven’t predetermined a child’s success. They treat all their students and athletes as important and they figure out a way to help each individual grow and thrive.

What is the mindset of a champion?

“It goes by different names, but it’s the same thing. It’s what makes you practice, and it’s what allows you to dig down and pull it out when you most need it,” Dweck wrote.

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Sectionals a few years later.

In what areas do you have a fixed or growth mindset? 

How to raise kids who won’t quit

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

One of the most important things about “sticking with it” is allowing our kids to find something they’re passionate about. It can’t be what we want them to do. It has to be what THEY want. By introducing our kids to several activities, hopefully, they’ll discover something they’re good at and want to pursue.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

My daughter blames me for not letting her quit piano for years–and she hated it. It wasn’t until the piano teacher told me that perhaps piano wasn’t her thing, that I realized I didn’t have to fight her to practice daily, or drag her to piano lessons anymore–and we’d both be happier!

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?