A lot of sports parents and coaches get so invested (which isn’t inherently a bad thing) in youth sports they forget one crucial thing–it’s not about you! No matter how much YOU love sports, no matter how big of a sports superstar YOU were, no matter how much YOU want your child to play, at the end of the day it doesn’t come down to what you love or you want; it’s all about the kids. Yes, YOU are the reason they played t-ball when they were five and six, but as kids get older playing youth sports has to be something they want to do. With 70% of kids quitting sports by age 13 clearly we are doing something wrong.
Here are 5 ways parents and coaches can make youth sports a positive experience and keep kids playing:
1. Care about more than the score.
There is no denying that winning is more fun than losing. And we aren’t suggesting that keeping score and being competitive is inherently bad (we think a little healthy competition is important!), but when winning becomes the ONLY thing that matters that athlete’s self-esteem is entirely dependent on the scoreboard. That much pressure is bound to make most kids crack a little. You can play the best game of your life and still lose, but that shouldn’t undermine how hard you’ve worked and how well you just played. Even at the high school level, most kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning one, so stop worrying so much about the final score or league standings.
2. Focus on developing the fundamentals.
If you felt like you were constantly getting left behind or couldn’t keep up with your team, would you want to keep playing sports? Not all athletes grow at the same pace, and when you feel like you just can’t “get it” it’s hard to keep your confidence and drive alive. Coaches and parents should focus on hammering in the fundamentals of a given sport until the player doesn’t have to think, they can just act. Worry about the fancy plays later. If you try to run your 8 year old football team like the NFL you’re going to lose a lot of kids because the skill level and attention span just isn’t there yet.
3. Don’t sacrifice the team for the superstar.
Kids aren’t dumb. They know who the best player on the team is and when a coach is clearly playing favorites they see it. Like we said, winning is great but if you play the same 5 kids for 75% of the basketball game why should the rest of the players have bothered to show up? When you’ve got kids showing up, hustling, putting in the work and growing as players they deserve the chance to show what they can do on the court! Even if they aren’t superstars they still deserve time to play, especially at young ages or on local league teams.
4. Say “I love to watch you play” more often.
When reviewing the results of an informal survey that lasted three decades, hundreds of college athletes were asked to think back: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?” Their overwhelming response: “The ride home from games with my parents.” When asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame, their overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”
5. Respect their limits.
Kids sometimes seem to have an unending supply of energy, but sooner or later they need a break. Overuse injuries and burnout are becoming increasingly common among youth athletes, especially those that play one sport all year round. If your child wants to take a season off, let them! Sometimes you need a mental break or the chance to try something different (play basketball instead of hockey, for instance) to realize how much you love to play. If kids are pushed too hard, too far and too fast they might be turned off sports for the rest of their lives.