Navigating Our Youth Through Sports

October 14th, 2013 | By Marjie No Comments


I’ll admit right up front that this article was my idea, but when it came time to put pen to paper I really struggled with these issues. As a parent of two athletic children, I have witnessed a lot of kids (including my own) be pressured to do more than they wanted, sooner than they should or desired to. I have also seen the talents of some children (including my own) overlooked by coaches and other parents.

These are two very diverse issues. But they are both at the heart of some serious issues facing children, parents, and coaches today:

Issue #1 – How do we nurture and encourage children to “be the best they can be” without pushing them so far they stop enjoying sports and activities?

Issue #2 – How do we help children develop talents they exhibit early in life without losing sight of the potential in their friends and teammates?

To address Issue #1, we considered HOW we pressure kids to be or do more than they really want, including:

  • Insisting on a rigorous training/practice schedule. Yes, practice is important, and training will help every athlete get better and stronger. But if a child isn’t enjoying the experience, they will eventually rebel. The key is to find a happy medium … find a way to incorporate training and practice, but make sure it’s in a way and at times that don’t create undue conflict and stress for you and your child.
  • Starting our children in sports at earlier and earlier ages. We used to call t-ball “magnet-ball” because wherever the ball was on the field, that’s where you’d find all the kids, too. It was fun for them … no one expected perfection … the kids were more interested in how many blades of grass were underfoot than who was up to bat. But some coaches and parents treat young athletes like professional sports recruits, which leads to athletes who take the game too seriously and play when they’re injured or, as they enter the teen years, turn to performance-enhancing substances.
  • Signing kids up for three or four sports every year whether they want to play or not. We have some friends who require one sport per year per child. The child is involved in the decision, and often they have spent one season in a sport, realized quickly that it’s not something they enjoy, and moved on to another. It has worked great for them. The children know the expectation, and the parents allow the kids to decide what they want to be involved in. Our own kids, on the other hand, enthusiastically played five sports (each) throughout high school and went on to play some at the college level. Every child is different!

bigstock-Female-gymnast-striking-pose-o-36429679I know a woman who was a stellar athlete in high school and college. She earned all kinds of accolades, titles, and trophies. After each one, though, her parents would say, “That’s great. But did you set a new record?” Not surprisingly, she never felt that she was good enough. Worse yet, her younger brother would never even try sports because he was afraid he could never live up to her achievements in the eyes of his parents. That young man may never know the pleasure of sports. Self-confidence doesn’t come with the trophy … it comes with the journey toward the trophy whether it’s won or not.

As parents and coaches, we all want to help our kids reach their potential. So I would never suggest that we not encourage and even push a little. The trick is to provide them with good role models – ourselves included! – and help them learn to appreciate the learning/growing process as much as the Win.

To address Issue #2, we considered WHO we know (or know of) that was originally overlooked as an athlete?

  • Tom Brady. In 2000, he was the 199th player taken in the NFL draft. Today we know him by the three Super Bowl rings he has, along with the myriad regular season and post-season records he holds as the Patriots’ QB.
  • Jeremy Lin. A Harvard alumnus with a degree in economics, undrafted by the NBA. But look at him now.
  • Mike Piazza. Drafted in 1988 by LA Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda as a favor to Piazza’s dad, he was picked 1,391st in that draft. 427 homers later and he’s in the New York Mets’ Hall of Fame.
  • Kurt Warner. Cut from the Packers’ training camp, he made the AFL Hall of Fame before appearing in four Pro Bowls and winning Super Bowl XXXIV.

My favorite story is that of Ian. He and his family immigrated to America when he was in 4th grade. One of his classmates, Mike, was asked to show him around the school, and a friendship developed. Mike taught Ian how to play basketball. Soon, Mike was a starter but Ian didn’t make the team. Then, in 9th grade, Mike stayed at his 5’11” size while Ian shot up to a gangly 6’6” (and still didn’t make the team). By the time they went to college, Ian had developed into a pretty good player. Today, he still holds scoring records at his college, as well as the high-scoring record for the 1980 Olympics for his home country’s team.

The message here is that every child should be given a fresh look every season. How often do coaches and parents make assumptions about a kid’s abilities based on how they did the previous year? If Tom, Jeremy, Mike, Kurt, and Ian hadn’t kept trying, the world would have missed out on some great sports moments.

In conclusion, here are a few thoughts to take away from this article …

  1. Be a role model of humility for your kids.
  2. Teach that there is no “i” in “team.”
  3. Hold your athlete children to the same standards as non-athletes.
  4. Help them understand that they are leaders, and that comes with responsibility.
  5. Offer them balance between sports and hobbies, friendships, academics.
  6. Recognize your child’s hard work as well as that of their teammates.
  7. Don’t support the ‘victim mentality’ that says someone else is to blame for a child’s or a team’s loss. That will spill over into other areas of his life.
  8. Teach respect for coaches, teammates, and officials.
  9. Teach them to strive for “less talk, more action.” If they want to prove their abilities, they should do so on the field of play, not “talk trash” in the cafeteria or the dugout.

Last, but certainly not least, take a look at athletes who have fallen from grace.  Some succumbed to the prima donna effect; others to human frailty; still others to the call of the mighty dollar.  You know them … they are football players, golfers, figure skaters, basketball players, bicyclists, baseball players, and more. They were our heroes, and now they will be remembered for the mistakes they made.  This is NOT where we want our children to end up.  So it’s our job to encourage them, push them a little, recognize when they have had enough, and help them make good choices all along the way.  Then they’ll be superstars in life!


Here are some traits that coaches, parents, teachers, and officials state are found in almost all accomplished athletes.

  • Love of the game(s) they play
  • Strong work ethic
  • Self-confidence
  • Focus on their own level of play instead of the win itself
  • Leaders in other areas of life as well
  • Energetic and enthusiastic
  • Good attitude
  • See past a loss to concentrate on the next game
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