How to support your student-athlete

young athlete

Photo Credit: master1305

Parents instinctively protect their children from both physical and emotional harm. From driving them to practices and attending their games to enrolling them in programs like overnight basketball camps and helping them navigate the process of getting accepted to a college sports program, parents are often closely involved when their kids play sports. With this type of involvement, it can be very easy to become emotionally invested in your child’s athletic performances and achievements, ultimately leading to unintentionally harmful or misinterpreted commentary and actions.

So, how can you avoid falling into the trap of talking to your child in a way that won’t be emotionally driven or misinterpreted by them when encouraging them before an athletic performance, consoling them after a disappointment, or defending them if we feel they’ve been wronged? Here are some tips:

Avoid the Pre-Game Pep Talk: While this may sound mean, there is reasoning behind it. No combination of words before a sporting event will magically help them perform better. Your presence and the knowledge that you love and support them is enough before a game, and any last-minute pointers or pep talks could even make your child feel more pressured and may even negatively impact them. Trust that their coaches and teammates will provide them with the guidance they need before, during, and after a game.

Rather than being constructive or focusing on last-minute instruction before your child plays, just let them know that you’re happy to be there. Try “I love to watch you play,” “have fun,” or even simply “I love you.”

Don’t Rush them Right after an Event: Win or lose, it is important for your child to digest their own post-sporting event emotions before they hear your well-intended congratulations or consolations. Especially after a loss, it will be tempting to rush to your child to console them, but, as they become adults, they will need to learn to process their emotions on their own.

Choose Your Words Carefully: If you do feel compelled to shout out encouragement or offer advice after a game or a practice, be mindful of the words or phrases that you are using. While “stay focused” or “toughen up” may seem like perfectly acceptable phrases to say to your child, they don’t have as much meaning as you may envision. Give specific pointers like “remember to pay attention to your catcher’s signals,” or “try not to let one foul throw you off.”

Don’t Critique Your Child’s Performance: If your child didn’t perform as well as they could have in practice or during a competition, they already know it internally. They will feel disappointed in themselves and will need your support, not your criticism. It is the coach’s job to provide feedback about how your child performed, and it is your job to be present, loving, and supportive.

Do Not Antagonize Game Officials: Even if you are 100% certain that a referee made the wrong call, yelling at them from the sidelines doesn’t typically work well and isn’t well received. It halts the progress of the sporting event, distracts your child and their teammates, and could even embarrass your child, which could then affect their performance. Remember, unless your child’s safety is in danger, you are at their sporting event as an onlooker and as a parent, not in another role.

Be Diplomatic When it Comes to Your Child’s Coach: You might agree with your child’s complaint about their coach, but that individual is still your child’s coach. Your child will still need to respect them the next time they see them. If your child vents to you about a grievance they have with their coach, listen to what they have to say, and then encourage them to speak to their coach about it. Not only will this help your child work out the conflict in a mature manner, but it will teach them a valuable lesson that they can utilize in the future as part of a college sports team and even in the workplace as an adult.

Conversely, if you do feel as though you have a valid complaint to make to your child’s coach, do it privately and respectfully.
Do Not Shout at or Threaten Other Parents: Although his should be a given, in the heat of the moment if another parent says something about your child, emotions can take over. Calmly asking a parent or another onlooker to stop talking about your child is far more productive than engaging in a fight, and it also sets an example for your child on how to handle disputes.

You love your kids, which can make it difficult to be objective when it comes to their athletic endeavors. Additionally, you invest in them by signing them up for local leagues and programs such as overnight basketball camps.  You also attend their practices and competitions and are there for them after a win or a loss. But, with a bit of self-awareness (and practice), you can provide your child with the type of support they ultimately need to thrive in their sport.


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