10 Reminders Stressed Out Sports Parents Need to Hear

Are you a sports parent? Do you find yourself continually getting stressed about youth sports and your child’s involvement in them? You are not alone. Stress has become common among sports parents, but that doesn’t make it any more helpful for the families involved. Sometimes, melting away that stress can be as simple as gaining a little perspective on the matters at hand. With that in mind, here are 10 reminders stressed out sports parents need to hear.

1. They Have Almost Zero Chance of Being a Pro Athlete

Along the way, somebody has told you that your kid has talent, and that praise became a drug. In fact, 26% of parents believe that their kid could play professional sports! The number is so absurd that you have to wonder where this confidence is coming from. For context, just 1.2% of all NCAA men’s basketball players go on to play in a major pro league. Obviously, the percentage of youth basketball players who go on to do the same is exponentially lower. So many things have to break right for a child to go on to become a professional athlete, and many of those things are entirely out of your control. Even if your child does make it to the pros, the odds of them having a long and financially lucrative career remain quite low. As sports parents, it’s important to simply focus on the moment and prioritize fun above all else. Adding unnecessary pressure to the situation only makes the sport less fun, leaving your child more apt to give up on it all together.

2. The Odds of Them Getting a Full D1 Scholarship Are Nearly Just as Low

Only 2% of high school athletes play Division I sports. The only men’s sports that offer full scholarships are basketball and football. Women’s sports with full scholarships are tennis, gymnastics, basketball and volleyball. All other Division I sports receive money based upon the athletic program and coaches’ discretion. Partial scholarships at 60%, 30% or less are the norm. And even if you do receive some sort of verbal offer, it doesn’t mean anything until an official grant-in-aid is signed on the dotted line. Ask anyone who’s had experience in college sports, and they’ll have plenty of stories of players getting misled during their recruitment. You may hear other parents brag about how their child is “being recruited” simply because they received a letter from such and such school, but that often means very little. Yes, they may have received a letter, but that was one of hundreds sent out. A player is not getting recruited until one of the coaches contacts them personally. While the odds of receiving a full scholarship are rather small, there are a number of steps you can take to increase your odds of receiving some sort of scholarship.

3. Division II, Division III and NAIA Can Be Great Options

If your child loves their sport and has the passion to play and practice, then they canplay in college. But the biggest question for most athletes is whether or not they’ll actually get to play on the college team they join. I know several athletes who were “good enough” to play at the top level of collegiate sports, but weren’t quite good enough to receive substantial playing time. Yet they chose to go with that route instead of going to a school where they could actually play and contribute on a consistent basis. I’m not saying one is right or wrong, but it’s all about your priorities. Division I sports also represent a massive time commitment. It’s essentially a full-time job in addition to school, as most days fall into the pattern of work out, classes, practice, dinner, studying, bedtime. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. This is where Division II, Division III and NAIA sports can help a student-athlete find the right balance. These different levels of collegiate play are highly competitive and are excellent options to explore. Great academics plus competitive sports plus a great college experience equals Winning as a Parent of an Athlete. These other levels are a part-time job compared to the full-time commitment of Division I.

4. Don’t Tie Their Self-Worth to Their Sports

How do you introduce and describe you child? If it’s something along the lines of “This is Johnny, our star second baseman,” perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate this habit. The words we use to describe our own child carries meaning and can have a massive impact on their feelings of self-worth. What happens if Johnny gets hurt or doesn’t make the all-star team? Instead of linking your child’s worth to their sporting achievements, praise them on their positive personality traits or work habits. Click here to find out the best name to call your kid. “The will to prepare has to be greater than the will to win.” – Bobby Knight Passion is the prerequisite for achieving anything great in life. As bad as you may “want it” for them, if they don’t take ownership and want it themselves, then the struggle will be real. Those who have passion often don’t have to be asked to practice, nagged to work on something, or coerced into playing. There’s a good saying that goes along the lines of “it’s tough to be driven when you’re being driven.” If the drive to get better doesn’t come from within, you can’t force it on them. They are the ones that have to want it. As opposed to simply forcing your goals upon them, have a conversation with your child about the goals they have for themselves. Then find out how they want to achieve those goals and how involved they want you to be in that process. Simply knowing what they do and do not want you to do in regards to their athletic career can help you build a much healthier relationship.

6. Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Ride the Carousel

Vicarious parents live through their child, whereas supportive parents live with their child. If you treat every performance as life and death, then you’re on the roller coaster of emotions. That equals stress, stress and more stress. Your role as a parent of an athlete is to provide balance, stability and support in their life. You must remain detached from outcomes! If you get caught up in the drama or results of winning and losing, you can’t remain level-headed. Think of your energy and attitude as being more of a consistent carousel then a rollercoaster of alternating rage and ecstasy.

7. Your Body Language Matters

In sports, we see positive and negative body language all the time. Players and coaches know the benefit of positive body language as well as the negativity that can radiate off bad body language. But as a sports parent, are you aware of your own body language? Since your child was little, they watched for your reaction in the crowd. They saw you slumping in your chair or throwing your hands up in disgust when they made that bad play or mental error. Your body language spoke so loud, they didn’t even need to hear what you were saying. Negative body language does not show that we care or are passionate, it communicates that we are not confident. We are signaling that we do not have faith in our own child to overcome a mistake and have a short memory. This is not easy, but essential: Your own body language must ride the carousel as well. It must be confident and supportive. Head up, clapping or cheering. If they do look, always a thumbs up, a smile or some clear sign of support!

8. Don’t Fight With the Cook

How many of you have eaten out at restaurants? I’m guessing all of you, and it’s an experience most of us enjoy. How many times have you been dining out and personally returned a dish to the cook to belittle their effort? I’m guessing almost never. So why do we feel that we can go talk to the coach and criticize their methods or style of play? Sports parents yell, coach from the stands, complain, and even write anonymous emails to the administration or other parents. I’m here to tell you to stop this behavior. If your own son or daughter wants to develop the skill of communication and ownership, then it is their responsibility to talk to coach about playing time on their own. Role-play with them all you want, but it is ultimately up to them. Being able to establish a productive dialogue with a superior or authoritative figure won’t just serve them well in sports, but it’s also a crucial skill for life.

9. Let Your Child Lead the Car Ride Conversation

There are good times to provide feedback to your child on their play, and then there are not so good times. The car ride home immediately after the game is not the time to offer unsolicited advice. Waiting for a time when everyone is cool, calm and collected to thoughtfully discuss the game is a much better approach than having an emotionally charged discussion minutes after the conclusion of the competition. This video explains how parents often ruin the car ride home!

10. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The best 12-year olds in the nation right now (pick the sport) should go on to become the best 14-year olds, the best 18-year olds, the biggest college stars and, eventually, the best pros. Right? Well, it does happen in the case of phenoms like LeBron James, but such cases are extreme outliers. It is rare because there are so many factors in play when it comes to long-term and sustained success. But for some reason, we still rank the top 7th graders in the nation! We look at the short-term development with a microscope, and speculate into the future with a telescope! The point is that there will be many losses, failures and setbacks along the way. If we don’t allow our children to experience these setbacks, we slow their progression as a person and an athlete. Difficult times are what produce character. It’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback. Sport teaches whatever we want it to teach. So as a parent of an athlete, should we focus only on the material gain our child may reap from sport? Or should we care more about all the lessons they can learn from their sport? Leadership, creativity, effort, passion, confidence, teamwork, communication, perseverance, mental toughness, focus, letting go of mistakes, handling conflict, overcoming obstacles and being in the zone are all skills that last way beyond the conclusion of an athletic career. If your entire focus is trying to turn your child into a world-class professional athlete, you run the risk of developing a person with second-rate social and life skills. If you have some additional reminders you’d like to share with sports parents, please email me. Maybe it’ll make my next book.Photo Credit: vernonwiley/iStock

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