Parenting Competitive Kids

by T.C. North, Ph.D.

The vast majority of parents want the absolute best for their children. This is especially true in organized youth and high school sports, where parents love to see their children do well and win. But in many cases parents’ desire to have their children do well can cause problems in the parent/child relationship. In extreme situations that I have witnessed, it can cause irreparable damage.

For 16 years, I have consulted with athletes in elementary school, junior high, and high school as well as college, Olympians and professionals. Sports, and other areas where children and teenagers participate competitively, play an important role for these youths to learn personal and team success strategies and how to compete. Consulting with young athletes, I have discovered that loving, well-meaning parents can sometimes behave in a manner that is be a detriment to the parent/child relationship and to the child’s development through sports. So, over the years, I have developed guidelines for parents and young athletes to consider in maximizing the enjoyment and benefit of organized sports for the whole family. However, since all family situations are different, please only consider the guidelines that make sense to your family.

Support your children …
• Give them unconditional love whether they win or lose.
• Let your child’s sport be your child’s challenge and success, not yours.
• Allow them to be more independent.
• Use positive communications with your child.
Support the Coaches …
• Your child needs you to be the parent. Let the coach do the coaching.
Parents Have Fun …
• Enjoy competitions whether your child wins or loses.

Give children unconditional love whether they win or lose! This will help your child understand that he/she is lovable and has value independent of the outcome of competition. Emphasize and reward fun, skill development and other benefits of sports participation, like cooperation, competition, self-discipline and commitment, rather than winning. Show interest in your child’s participation by attending competitions, transporting your child to practices and asking questions about their enjoyment and what they are learning. Avoid being highly emotional about the outcome of the competition.

Let your child’s sport be your child’s challenge and success, not yours. Assist your child in setting realistic and challenging goals for participation (not outcomes). These goals must be your child’s goals, not yours. Help your child understand success and disappointment and to learn from both. Help your children to develop mastery and love of a lifetime of sports and help your child develop positive, constructive personal success strategies through sports participation — a transferable life skill.

Allow your children to become more independent. Participation in sports is an independent step for kids. Your attitude influences how your child feels during and after a competition. Share your child’s joys, be empathetic with your child’s frustrations and losses, and encourage your child to keep learning. Allow your child to experience and process the feelings of winning and losing without imposing your feelings; try to not become overly emotionally involved. When your child loses a competition and experiences you the parent as upset, this may cause the child to feel guilty for upsetting you. While watching your child compete, always look upbeat. As part of your child’s maturation process, allow your child to struggle a little to solve his/her own problems as much as possible.

Use positive communications with your child. Use of threats, sarcasm, fear, or other negative approaches, erodes your child’s self-esteem and provokes a desire to rebel against you. Be honest with your praise. When your child feels successful, share the joy, when your child is disappointed, be supportive. Always compare your child’s development to himself or herself, not to other children. Please do not do or say anything that will cause your child to think less of him/herself, or of you.

Support Coaches

Your child needs you to be the parent. Let the coach do the coaching. Give the coach and the team your time and support. Parents please do not criticize coaches, officials or other athletes, this will effect your child, almost always by being embarrassed and may cause them to lose respect for you. Communicate with the coach about your child and listen to what the coach learns about your child that can help you. Ask for a periodic update on your child’s progress to be done at a mutually convenient time. If your child’s behavior is unacceptable during practice or competitions, discuss with the coach how the coach would like you to help to resolve this.

Parents Have Fun

Enjoy competitions whether your child wins or loses. Enjoy socializing with other parents at sporting events. This can be more fun for you and your child will not have to be concerned about your enjoyment. Do not make your child feel guilty for the time, energy and money you are spending. However, it is fair to have participation guidelines that your child needs to meet in order for you to continue to pay for the child’s sports (e.g., going to practices).

It is natural for all parents to want their child to succeed in what ever they do. However, in parents’ strong desire for their children to be their best, it is easy to become overly emotionally involved in your child’s sports and despite a parent’s best intentions, end up hurting your relationship with your child. Following the above guidelines can help both you and your child get the most joy out of sports competition while maintaining, and even strengthening your relationship.

TC North, Ph.D., is CEO of Catalyst High Performance and Founder of Spirit of Sport. He is a high-performance speaker, consultant and coach for entrepreneurs, sales professionals and athletes. He catalyzes individuals and teams to become higher-performers, personally, professionally and athletically. You may contact him for an individual consultation, or to work with your team or business at (303) 665-8920 or TCNorth (at) BoulderCatalyst.com.

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