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 sports 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.

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Junior Olympics for my daughter.

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?

Who Is to Blame for Performance Pressure at the Big Meet?

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The view of Mt. San Jacinto during my morning walk.

Every morning, I walk around the neighborhood and park. On a good morning I talk to my kids as they are driving through the Bay Area traffic to work. Today, I chatted with my daughter about the PAC 12 Swimming Championships. She told me a few eye-opening things about her experiences in the years’ past.

First, she told me during her freshman year she was absolutely terrified before she swam. She felt the PAC 12s was the biggest meet of her life. I remember watching her from the balcony, having fun with her teammates. I had no clue she was terrified.

That made me ask an all important question. “Was it because your dad and I put too much pressure on you?”

“No, I put the pressure on myself,” she said.

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Me and my kids at PAC 12 Swimming Champs, 2018.

Whew. Big sigh of relief from me. I wrote about championship meets for SwimSwam and here on my blog last week. I thought I’d blown it with too much performance pressure on both my kids. What a nice bit of knowledge to know my daughter didn’t view it that way at all. Also, my son told me he also put pressure on himself. Of course, some of our actions may not have helped, but we weren’t the sole cause of their pressure.

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PAC 12 2015, goofing off with teammates.

She told me, “I remember during my first PAC  12s my coach was talking to me about Open Water Camp coming up. I thought to myself. Wow. There’s more swimming after this. This isn’t the end of the world after all.”  (USA Swimming Open Water Select Camp is an annual instructive camp where 12 men and 12 women, ages 13 to 18, are selected based on their 1500 times or Open Water Nationals results. Here’s a link to the year my daughter went.)

Another thing my daughter told me was about the mid-season meet. This is where the team goes to a big meet in the middle of the season with a bunch of other college teams. We never went to one because she didn’t want us there and we respected her wishes. She said “I hope you and dad know that I didn’t want you there because I put so much pressure on myself. It wasn’t you guys.” She asked, “Do you think Dad knows that?” She explained that she wasn’t tapered for that meet and she only swims fast with a taper. She didn’t expect to swim well and always felt she could have done more to prepare for that mid-season meet.

It’s so rewarding to have conversations with my adult children and know that they appreciate what we’ve done for them — and not be blamed for their own insecurities or pressures. They are separate human beings with their own goals and dreams. I’m glad to be of help along the way and I enjoyed it all beyond measure.

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US Open Water Nationals in Florida.

Have you had enlightening conversations with your kids about when and why they feel pressure?

 

 

Could I have a Do-Over, Please?

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

 

What would you do differently as a parent?

How to Keep Your Kids in the Game

34614_1556248309940_4797539_nIt’s a hard lesson for sports parents to learn, because we do get all excited watching our kids, but we can put too much performance pressure on them. When we do this, they may lose some of their passion for their sport, play half-heartedly, or quit.

When my son was young, I learned that he listened to his own drummer. Tee ball practices were spent building dirt castles. When I put him on a summer league swim team, I was surprised to see him and a friend out of the pool, sword fighting with sticks. As he got older and focused on swimming, he was hard enough on himself. I didn’t need to add any pressure. He said he still has nightmares about me forcing him to go to a meet that he wasn’t prepared for. I thought meets were fun–at least they were for me. I didn’t see an issue with signing him up for a meet after he had spent the last two months in a school play with little or no practice.

I believe we have to keep in mind our children’s competitive natures and their passion. They have to like their sport. It can’t be done to please us. It’s their sport, not ours. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”

Here’s an interesting article in PopsugarUK.com from a mom who wants her kids to enjoy their sports, but is afraid of the culture. Written by Angela Anagnost-Repke, she points out some of the great things about youth sports, as well as the problems. Unfortunately, a few overzealous parents can ruin the sports experience for everyone.

Here’s an excerpt of “I Want My Kids to Play Sports, but Worry How the Culture Will Affect Them:”

I signed my kids up for team sports because playing sports teaches kids more lessons than I can count: how to set a goal and work to achieve it, how to function as part of a team, and how to find that grit we all have deep within us. It also demonstrates that when you’re working with others, on anything, those same people will depend on you. So, it’s on you to bring it every single day — to training, to practice, and to games. I personally have many fond memories of playing football with my teammates, and I want that for my kids, too. But the culture has shifted dramatically since my days on the field, so I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I find the pressure to be “the best” in their specialised sport — which I also think kids are forced into choosing far too young — is too intense for kids today. It feels like kids are expected to be a standout athlete before they reach 10 years old. They’re expected to get outside and practice instead of running through the sprinklers with the neighbours, give up going to birthday parties to play in weekend-long tournaments. And the older these children get, the more burned out they become. I’ve seen kids get so worn down from trying to be “the best” that they stop playing sports all together. While they loved it once, that love has diminished, or died altogether, and they can’t bear to play any longer. And, this societal pressure is not the only kind of pressure I see young athletes facing, either.

Today, I also think kids involved in sports receive too much pressure from their parents. As I stand on the sidelines to watch my son play on his travel football team, I hear parents yell at their 6- and 7-year-old boys constantly. “Get up!” “Get your head in the game!” and “You better start trying!” The little boys stiffen up as their parents scream at them and then try just a little bit harder. I can’t help but think that these parents should be yelling praise and encouragement. This pressure carries through to when these kids become young adults. It wears them down. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen it far too many times. These young adults are so burnt out from trying to please everyone around them. They’re crumbling, and it’s a damn shame.

We can cheer and love the life lessons our kids get from their sports. But, we need to keep the pressure to perform in check. If they are having fun, they will stick with their sports.

robkatwaterHow do you help your kids in sports without taking over or adding too much pressure?