“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
—John Wooden, UCLA, legendary basketball coach
The key to success in youth sports is how you define it. Is it being the shortstop on the baseball team? Is it winning all your games in a season? Is it making the middle school basketball team? Is it setting a record for your age group in the backstroke? Is it a starting position on the high school soccer team or a college lacrosse scholarship?
If so, very few will experience success in sports endeavors out of all the many who participate. How sad. For all the financial expenditure, investment of time, sweat, effort, sacrifice, very few will feel successful. Therefore be thoughtful about how you define success. Each and every sports participant can be successful.
There has always been emphasis on goal setting in sports. Meeting your individual goals can also be a flawed marker of success. Goals have to be attainable. If the goal is to win every tennis match you play, you are on shaky ground. Your opponent may have an exceptional day, the officiating may have a sub-par day. You may be feeling under the weather, there may have been emotional upset at home or school. During your preparation you may have practiced for a right-hander. She was left-handed. It was 42 degrees, misting rain, and your hamstring was tight.
The point is this, you can control only what you can control. Did you prepare mentally, physically, emotionally as best you could? That’s a worthy goal. Did you give effort on every serve, every volley, every net shot? That’s a worthy goal. When you lost the match in a tiebreaker, did you maintain your composure and congratulate your opponent before you broke into tears off the court? You get the point.
Because not everyone’s “story” is the same, and because sports ends at some point for everybody, I have refined my definition of success. Successful youth sports experiences all share this in common: Something of lasting value continues to enhance the participant’s life well beyond their playing days. The experience also strengthens relationships rather than diminishes, and it is one that is enjoyed by the participant and even those who love and support him/her. You need to know that as their parent, you have significant impact on whether or not that happens.
One last point, for those of you parents who are former athletes and who have attained “success” measured in scholarships, medals, trophies, championships, hall of fame status, this will be harder for you to navigate. You may find yourself confused, frustrated, and unable to enjoy the sports experience of your child unless it is measured by tangible markers such as starts and statistics. I am just cautioning you. Your child’s experience is their “story,” not yours. They know your history, the pressure is already in place. You will have to be extraordinarily aware that when you speak or react, it will be amplified. Make it your aim to enjoy watching your child participate, and tell them often. Your relationship may depend on it.