We’ve all said it. The tried and true, “When I’m a parent, I’ll do things differently”. But do we really? And how about when it comes to things like discipline, school, or even sports? What is the impact of youth sports?
I have spent the better part of half my life as either an athlete or a coach. Coupled with being an educator, I have definitely learned quite a few lessons over the years. Here’s my take on the impact of youth sports from a coach’s perspective.
As An Athlete
As a former collegiate volleyball player, I can tell you that as an athlete, I always thought I was right. Don’t most teens?
But I was lucky enough to have some amazing coaches at both the high school and collegiate level that not only brought me down to Earth but helped prepare me for adulthood.
But it wasn’t really until I became a coach and then had children of my own that my perspective truly changed on kids and sports. Because to me, sports are one of the greatest platforms for learning solid life lessons…IF, you have the right approach.
From An Athlete to a Coach
As a coach for a varsity program for 8 years, I saw dozens upon dozens of athletes pass through our gym doors.
When I became a mother, my own children were raised on the volleyball court. The incessant bouncing of balls and screaming crowds were some of the first sounds they ever heard in the womb.
And as they grew, their little footsteps were first taken across a sprawling gym floor as they were chased by my athletes.
My husband, who is also a former collegiate athlete, loves to constantly be outside with the kids, throwing baseballs, catching frisbees, kicking soccer balls…anything to get them active.
But one thing we have always agreed on was that we would never force sports on our kids. That we would allow them the freedom to pick and choose which sports or activities they wanted to try, without forcing them into a game that we were good at growing up.
When To Step In, from a Coach’s Perspective
Before I really get into the impact of youth sports from a coach’s perspective, it is important to know that as a parent, you do have the right to protect your child.
If your child is working with an elementary or high school coach who humiliates, demeans, or verbally abuses your child…all bets are off.
And in my experience, it is best to remove the child from that environment if it’s clear that things will not change.
The Greatest Lessons
I reached out to some of my former athletes, as well as coaches that I have worked with over the years, and I asked them for the greatest lessons they learned from their coaches or what they hoped parents would learn from having kids in sports.
Usually, my blog posts are filled with my own opinion but I thought that this particular topic would impact from a variety of voices.
Their words of wisdom align with everything I also believe as a coach. Some of these apply to older athletes but almost all of these principles can be used to teach even young kids important life lessons.
Impact of Youth Sports From The Mouths of Fellow Coaches
“Be committed to the team. Try not to plan family dinners and stuff during practices and games so the athletes are present. Doing this helps them to learn about the same commitment they will need to be successful in school, jobs, and society.”
This is a tough one, especially with young kids. It’s easy to skip that soccer game or leave town early for a family trip because “It’s just youth sports” right? I would wholeheartedly disagree.
Teaching kids, even at a young age, that commitment is important, is a very valuable life lesson. Teaching them to replace commitments with things that seem more appealing in the moment decreases the value of their original commitment. It also impacts the kids who do show up.
If you know that you can’t commit to the duration of a sport, think hard about whether or not it’s the right fit for your family. Missing a practice or two in a season is one thing, being habitually absent is another.
“Teach them how to talk to their coach and don’t always be quick to bail them out as a parent. For example, playing time in high school and college. Or when an athlete breaks a rule. Let them face the consequence”.
Boy, I wish someone had taught my mom (and me) this lesson as a young athlete. As parents, our job is to protect our kids, to shelter them from outside harm. But sometimes, we cross the line.
Our gut instinct when our kids get their feelings hurt in sports is to sprint to their aid and demand the coach do something about it.
Encourage your kids to have conversations with their coaches. Instead of you (or them) saying things like “Why isn’t my kid playing over that kid?” Try to change your mindset. Have the ATHLETE ask, “Coach, what can I do to get better and earn more playing time?”
I have taught my own children to do this even at a very young age. My initial response is always to side with the coach first. To help my kids problem solve and use their words to express their feelings. If my child cannot continue the conversation alone or there are behaviors that need adult intervention, then I step in.
Of course, this suggestion doesn’t apply to situations like your 6-year-old playing recreational soccer and never getting the opportunity to play. On the flip side, it’s almost impossible to balance 100% equal time so choose your battles wisely.
“Remember that sports at a young age are for fun. And should be a time to build social skills and life lessons. College recruiters don’t attend little league games.”
Ever see the Facebook videos of GROWN adults being thrown out of youth sporting events? This never ceases to absolutely shock me. We as parents, guardians, and coaches are kids’ first opportunity to see good decision making IN ACTION.
Consider that responsibility when facing a knee jerk reaction.
“Don’t coach from the sideline. Be their biggest cheerleader.”
I will admit, this is a hard one for me. As a former athlete AND a coach, it is really really tempting to coach from the sidelines.
When my oldest started playing volleyball I was over the moon happy! Watching her play a sport that I loved so much was my dream come true. I’m a coach! But, I am not HER coach. I am her mom. And my job is to cheer and support. And that’s it.
Calling out directions from the sidelines not only distracts your kids, but it takes the authority away from their coaches. Think your child’s coach is clueless? I can assure you that no amount of coaching or yelling is going to positively improve the environment of their game in that moment.
If your athlete makes eye contact with you, smile, wave, and cheer. Then let them put their focus back on the game.
“Remember that as the parent, you are going to be the person they vent to. All of their frustrations are going to come at you, and it’s rare for student-athletes to talk about the really good days. The days where they worked hard and felt accomplished. Consider that before picking up the phone. Let them vent, but try not to add fuel to the fire.”
Oh, man. This one. If I could hand-pick my greatest piece of advice, this might be it. We are the homing beacons for all our kids’ frustrations for a large majority of their life. And when feelings get hurt in sports, man do we hear it as parents.
It’s really easy to jump on the bash train, especially if it’s warranted. But take a moment to step back and think about what life lesson you’re teaching your athlete if you encourage or stoke the anger flame every time they are upset.
And let’s not forget that kids are quite frankly the worst participants in the telephone game.
My best advice, listen. Validate their feelings. Then help them come up with a solution. Leave the bash fest for after-hours with your significant other after small ears are out of reach.
“Never speak poorly about another parent’s child. Not in the stands. Not to your own child. Not at home.”
This, to me, speaks for itself. We love our kids unconditionally. And there is no greater hurt than listening as another grown adult tears your child down.
You would be surprised how often this happened at the high school level. And I don’t blame parents for gut reactions on this one.
Impact of Youth Sports From The Mouths of Athletes
A few words of wisdom from some of my former athletes on what they appreciated from their greatest coaches.
“I think the biggest lesson for me was tough love. The best coaches I ever had pushed me, but I always knew they loved me. So oven on bad days when I felt like I hated them at the moment, they would end the practice with making sure we understood that they believed in me and made sure I knew that I was worthy. This applied to both on and off the court.”
Tough love is a fine line. It’s the difference between screaming “what the hell is wrong with you?” to an athlete and “I need you to listen and work harder.” The best coaches I have ever worked to teach their kids resilient optimism. We push them while offering them a safe platform to learn and grow.
I am a believer that in the right context and age group, raising your voice towards an athlete or team is appropriate, as long as the tone and the words are meant to inspire or positively direct.
“I loved when my coaches cared about the things I did off the court. Seeing them be interested or involved in my life outside of sports, made me feel like they believed in me as a person.”
I had a rule as a teacher and as a coach. If a student or athlete asked me to attend something that was important to them, I made an effort to go at least once. No matter the activity.
The same principle can be applied to parents of athletes. Care about what your kids do outside of sports. Not every kid is going to be an olympian.
In fact, most will never set foot on a court or field after high school or for some, college. So be sure to encourage and support their other interests with the same fervor that you use while cheering from the stands.
In the end, having your kids in sports can be incredibly positive. It teaches them the value of teamwork, commitment, and hard work. It allows them space to socialize outside the classroom and create independence, away from their parents.
Honestly, the impact of youth sports plays a huge role in how our children are raised.
Whether your kid is participating in youth sports or you’re paying big bucks for a travel team, these lessons and pieces of advice from accomplished coaches and athletes can help you create a healthy balance when it comes to kids in sports.
And remember, no one ever got recruited to be a professional athlete as a child. Sometimes, it’s ok to let them be little.
Megan Rix is a former at-risk high school English teacher turned stay at home mama, lifestyle blogger, and entrepreneur. After leaving the classroom to focus on being a mama, she needed a place to document the life of her very strong-willed child and what she realized along the way were all the things in her life that “anchored” her. A love for food, beauty, family, and giving back to others helped shape the blog as it looks today.