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Reality Check: 6 Ways Parents Ruin Youth Sports for Kids

Sports provide a fantastic way to get kids more active, making friends, and learning life lessons in teamwork and adversity – but sometimes parents ruin youth sports for kids. Are you accidently ruining youth sports for your children?

As a coach, my husband says he has two goals for our own kids and the kids he coaches:

  1. Sign up next year
  2. Develop

It feels simple and obvious, right? Enjoy it and get better.

Sadly, many parents lose sight of this pretty quickly when submerged in the world of youth sports.

I’ve noticed a recent trend of parents agreeing that youth sports have totally broken.

And unfortunately, it’s commonly the parents to blame for the crash and burn.

Parents mean well and want to see their kids do well (I’ve made some of these mistakes too)- but I feel they are forgetting these 6 things.

6 Reality Checks for Youth Parents

If you are unsure if you are the type of parent who may ruin youth sports for your children, consider these 6 reality checks.

1) JV or Varsity? It Doesn’t Matter!

Did your kid make the A team or the B team? Black or Gold team? Varsity or Junior Varsity?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter.

Many parents are so focused on the status that they lose sight of the big picture – development and fun.

On a “B” team, kids who may have sat the bench on an “A” level team can develop in new positions. They have the chance to turn into a team leader, or grow into their body.

To be honest, that “A” kid may have just grew earlier than the “B” kid – who may grow 6 inches taller next year and rock it on the basketball court.

What NOT to do: Don’t say things like “Hurray! You made the Gold team!” or “Well…. it looks like you only made the B team.”

What to do instead: Show your kid unconditional support no matter what outcome, and don’t make a big deal about which team they made. Your kids will feed off of your energy and attitude – whether disappointed or arrogant. A simple “I am proud of you for working hard and making a team” is sufficient.

Related: Why I Like to See my Kids Lose

2) Trophies are Literally Pieces of Plastic

I have seen many parents do some pretty nasty and cut-throat things when it comes to youth sports – all in the name of a junky trophy or social media post.

Like that one time a 6 foot tall kid with a mustache showed up (in a different colored uniform, mind you) only to pitch the championship game against our 10 year old baseball team.

That kid didn’t walk (or drive- he literally looked old enough to drive) himself to the field on his own. There were adults involved whose goal was to win that championship at any cost.

Getting a well-earned trophy or medal is fun, for sure. But remember- most $4.50 trophies will likely collect dust for 5 years until it gets thrown out in the trash. Don’t lose your class or teach your kid’s nasty lessons with your own poor behavior.

What NOT to do: Use the trophies solely to motivate kids. Avoid saying things like “You want that trophy huh?!”

What to do instead: Focus on the good things your kid or the team did – and opportunities for improvement. Highlight the memories and special moments, which will last beyond the plastic.

Also read: How to Raise Humble Kids

Related: When Your Kid Wants to Quit a Sport, Say this!

3) Your Kid Most Likely Won’t Play College or Professional Sports

Sorry. They may go pro- but they probably won’t.

Another blaring way parents ruin youth sports for kids is by holding their child to unrealistic future expectations.

According to some NCAA research, of the roughly 8 million students currently participating in high school sports in the United States, only 495,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools.

Furthermore, only a small fraction will go on from there. Take football, for example, out of 16,380 draft eligible NCAA football players, 254 were drafted in to the NFL.

I am not saying to laugh in your 7 year old kid’s face when they say they want to be a football player when they grow up. But if little Timmy is a stud at T-ball, you shouldn’t be talking to colleges about recruitment just yet.

What NOT to do: Expect your child to share your future goals in athletics with you. Or dive into intense training routines to solidify their athletic career at a young age.

What to do instead: Emphasize the friendships and good times that come along with youth sports. Support them only as far as they are willing to go. Remember that your child is only young once, and sometimes missing a practice to go to a birthday party is the smart decision in the long run.

Learn About the invisible weight of a Helicopter Parent here.

4) Stop Constantly Blaming Others

Many youth parents totally ruin the sports experience for kids by repeatedly blaming others when things don’t go their way.

They blame the referee for a bad call, the coach for not playing their kid enough, or other players/opponents for a loss.

This creates a bad team atmosphere and leads to narcissistic behavior in kids.

Let your kid lose, learn how to accept it, and move on.

Related: How to Raise Kids that Don’t Give up Easily

What NOT to do: Never blame situations on other people or outside forces. Sports are about battling through the situations you are dealt.

What to do instead: Talk only about what your child did have control over. Try “I know you lost, but I noticed that you never gave up.” Teach your child the importance of respect.

5) You May be Enjoying it Way More Than Your Kids

You’ve seen the Dad or Mom making direct eye contact with their kid during practice. They have a strange silent language, but it is easy to decipher. The furrowed brow means “try harder” and the slow nod provides approval.

Commonly, when you see parents ruining sports for their kids, the root cause is that the parent is living through their child.

The child is terrified to let their parent down because they realized that this youth sport is actually their parent’s passion.

What NOT to do: Ignore signs of burn out or discomfort. Replace their childhood with a packed training schedule against the kid’s will.

What to do: Give your child some space. Ask yourself these questions: “Does my son or daughter seem uncomfortable when I am at their practices/games?”, “Are they constantly looking for my approval?” and “Do they appear to actually enjoy this?”

6) Sports Should Not Replace Family Time

In all honesty, in our home sports take up a lot of our free time.

Sometimes it is hard to find time for quality bonding outside of activities; however, it is crucial that we do.

Children need to believe that there is more to your relationship than sports. They need to feel that your love for them doesn’t rely on how well they played or if they sign up next season.

What NOT to do: Don’t consider sports to be your only way to bond with your child.

What to do instead: Find a hobby that doesn’t have to do with sports – try fishing, crafting, read books, go to church, cook dinner together, play video games, watch movies – or any of these anchor routines!

Check Out These Tips to Rekindle Your Bond with Your Son.

Final Thoughts on How Parents Ruin Youth Sports

If the 6 “what to do instead” options above sound like things you do today, then well done! Your kid will most likely look back on their youth with fond memories – which is really what we all want for our kids.

On the other hand, if you failed some of these reality checks, then the good news is it’s not too late!

It’s easy to get so tied up in all the excitement to forget that sports are about teaching kids life lessons, having fun, and learning to work for something.

Simply re-adjust your expectations. Elevate how you talk to them and treat their activities. And for the love of God, build a relationship with them OUTSIDE of sports.

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