Get in the Game
It's a bright and sunny afternoon, and I'm sitting in the stands watching my 11-year-old son's football game. Trevor's team has the ball with the clock running out, but the kids look weary. I make brief eye contact with Trevor as the referee puts the ball down 15 yards from the end zone and my son lines up at wide receiver. A chant comes up from the parents: "Go Mustangs!" Hike! The ball is snapped, and Trevor races down the sideline. His eyes widen as the quarterback sails the pass his way. Trevor leaps and snags the ball in the end zone. Touchdown!
I'll never forget the look of joy and triumph on the faces of the Mustangs that day and how the kids radiated a sense of satisfaction and pride. The entire experience reaffirmed my belief in the benefits of organized sports for children. Playing on a sports team improves physical and mental health, promotes teamwork, and provides hours of fun and countless memories. It also teaches kids how to win and lose gracefully.
Your participation in youth sports is important, too. Supporting your "family teammate" can help your child reach her full potential, on and off the field. The bond you form can open the door to meaningful conversations. From a pat on the back to coaching her team, there are a variety of ways you can support your child's athletic life. Here are some suggestions, based on my experience as a parent and my work with weplay.com:
- Attend games and practices when possible. If you take an interest, your child will take an interest. But be sure to let it be your child's game and dream — not yours.
- Provide positive reinforcement. Winning a game or scoring a big goal may put a smile on your child's face, but make sure to congratulate her on smaller tasks and overall effort, as well. Plus, every child is important — not just the star players.
- Consider what you say. Some games end in cheers, others end in tears. Kids know when they haven't played to their full potential, so there's no need to remind them.
- Congratulate your child on his valiant effort and offer to help him improve anything he feels he needs to work on with relaxed backyard practice sessions. But do your homework before offering advice — you don't want to give him bad sporting tips.
- Offer to coach. While this is probably the most demanding commitment a parent can make to youth sports, it's easily the most rewarding. Children need respectable adult role models, and supportive coaching can make a huge positive impact on their development.
- Get involved. Every little bit counts. If you're unable to coach, there are plenty of other ways to get involved in your child's practices or games. Provide refreshments, manage the scoreboard or league registrations, or coordinate fundraising and carpools.
As a parent, your contributions, whether big or small, make an immeasurable difference in your child's athletic experience. You can provide meaningful guidance, help your kids become better people, and show them how to have fun as they grow and discover vital life lessons.