“When I approach a child, he inspires me in two sentiments–tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become.”
The carelessness with which some people relate to children is more a reflection on them than on the child. In the arena of youth sports, whenever I hear a coach, a parent, or other adult spectator speak angrily to or about a young athlete, it disheartens me. Children, and certainly young athletes, are younger versions of untapped potential and developing character traits, who, with the benefit of time, worthy examples, and experience, will likely surpass us all!
Education is at the heart of parental responsibility in raising children. You teach in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, mostly by example. When you do speak, it’s important that your words mirror your actions and that your emotions substantiate your words. This consistency is healthy in a household, and children pick up on the subtlety of our tone, body language, and even what we don’t say. Unfortunately, although great recorders of what they hear, children are poor interpreters. Inconsistent messaging only adds to their confusion as they process communication. Be clear, be consistent, but most of all be caring as you communicate.
In a similar way, athletes are listening to what you do and do not say, whether directly to them or to those in the sports arena within their earshot. Did you know that one study revealed that many young athletes quit playing sports prematurely because of the negativity they perceive? It causes pressure and fear of failure. Many dread the ride home after a competition as parents feel obliged to unpack the performance instead of allowing a cooling off period before transitioning into the day’s next activity. In fact, Bruce Brown has given us all we really need when parents want desperately to say something. “I love watching you play.”
My best advice for parents is to not only value teaching your child, but honor the education he can give you in return. Taking time to simply observe, pay attention to what your child enjoys doing and providing further opportunities to develop his unique skill set is a type of empowerment for your child. Listen to what she says. Wait until she speaks, giving her space and time to process her emotions and formulate her words. Ask her what support she needs from you in her sport. What helps her enjoy it more and perform with more ease? Learn from your children. Respect not only who they will be someday, but who they are today. It’s like providing rich fertilizer for a flowering garden. It requires intentionality, time, and patience. But doing so fortifies the development within your child that you cannot always see.
After all, isn’t your longing to advantage your child? You, of course, want your relationship to strengthen through the challenges of growing up. Don’t you expect to have the best return on your investment in youth sports activities? Allow your child to guide you to do this. The respect and love evident by your willingness to allow them to express who they are, will pay dividends for you both, now and in the days ahead.
- Be positive and consistent with language, emotion and actions when communicating with children about sports, etc.
- Empower your child to teach you so that you can be supportive in appropriate and effective ways as they play sports.