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Parenting and Youth Sports

I'm a coach. In another life, I think that I'd do that as a profession. In this life however, I've been coaching my 2 girls in a variety of sports and learning so many lessons. As they have gotten older, more and more issues have come up that have pushed me past those easy tee-ball days. Suddenly, drafts and organizational politics have come into play - neither of which I could care about all that much. I'm still more concerned with my singular goal for each season:

How many of these kids will have so much fun that they will come back and play another season?

There was a study done recently that showed that 75% of all kids who play sports stop completely by age 13. Athletics was such an important part of shaping who I am today and for my girls, I feel that it is extremely important for them to keep playing (something, anything) and having fun.

I picked up a copy of "Parenting Young Athletes The Ripken Way" from the library this weekend and blew through it's pages in one sitting. What I read reconfirmed:

  • Cal Ripken is a class act
  • Youth Sports today is very different than it was when I was a kid (not so long ago)
  • Youth Sports are GAMES... and games are meant to be fun
  • Parents and coaches may be hurting their kids inadvertently by pushing and not praising at all times
I jotted down a few notes as I read this book (I read with one eye on the Patriots playoff and their 17th victory this season - all those guys played youth sports I bet).

Cal talks a lot about praise and how to use praise to really build up a kids confidence. I do an OK job of this, but am realizing how important it is to not be critical - especially in the car on the way home from a game. My instinct is to keep coaching on the way home, giving my girls tips and pointers on what to work on. What I should be doing is going gaga over their performance and asking them about what they thought.

If my goal is to get my kids to keep playing a sport from season to season, I think a little less criticism and a ton more praise might just do the trick.

A lot of parents have asked me if I think travel teams and specialization is something they should be considering for their athletes - I get these questions more and more now that my older kid is approaching middle school. While I'm not an expert quite yet, Cal's book made some great points that are worth considering.

  • By playing as many different sports as possible, your athlete develops cross-compatible skills that will help them in every sport they play. The quickness they get from playing aggressive defense in basketball will certainly help their footwork on a soccer field or on a baseball diamond.
  • Cal also mentions that the college coaches he knows actually tend to favor well-rounded athletes - their thought being that a player who specialized at a young age is at risk for an injury (overuse of particular muscles) and burn out.
  • The book also talks about travel teams and how for most kids, lack of playing time on a team focused only on winning can actually end up making no difference athletically for that child - and even worse can create other issues. The demands that travel teams make on families creates issues with school work, missing family time and meals and at it's worst, can create animosity or dislike for the game. At 7 or 8 years old, is this really necessary?
In the end, Cal makes a startingly simple and powerful statement that I 100% agree with:
It's not about your dreams, it's about your child's dreams.
I'd agree. Sports may not be your kid's dream - but giving them an opportunity to stay fit, learn a new game and make friends is worthy enough a goal!


Marc Sirkin said…
Blogs are the best because they connect you to people you'd never otherwise meet.

I recently got an email from Tom Hanson who is the Editor at

He turned me on to this amazing article... read it!

Ok - don't have time, then here are the key points:

"It is important to understand that sports can and should be a very prominent part of the growth process for children, provided adults keep the proper perspective. At the simplest level, with a focus on recreation, sports provide an outlet for kids, allowing a controlled and positive release of energy. Recreational activities help our youngsters develop healthy minds, bodies and spirits. In addition, loosely organized activities can provide enormous opportunity for socialization for children, that is if we adults refrain from over-structuring the activity."

Nicely said... getting that you ADULTS?

Parents just ruin everything.

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