"Be A Sport" When Your Kid Plays Sports

Standing on the sidelines watching my son play football, I was chatting with some of the other parents.  One mom was talking about how the coaches had been fighting over her son when they picked kids for our teams last week.  Lots of heated arguments ensued and angry, hurtful comments were made during the discussions.  Her son was big, built, had experience, and was a natural for football.  It was no wonder that he was the ideal candidate.  The drama involved in building “super teams” and competing to get the best players is seen every year in sports – from college to professional teams.  Coaches are always trying to get the best players.  It makes sense. So, why was this mom upset that there was drama over her son?  He was only seven years old!  This was the local flag football team for kindergartners and first graders.

Another dad at the game shared that they had just left a league because of the politics involved as travel soccer team candidates were identified.  A friend told me recently how stressed she was because she had to tell her daughter’s field hockey coach that they were leaving because they wanted someone who was better and more driven.  She worried about how angry he'd be.  Stories have been published about parents have been banned from games because they were too abusive to the coaches and were overly zealous about referee calls. And everyone who has been to competitive sports games has seen “that dad” or “that mom” who is a little crazy when their child doesn’t shine that day.

Organized sports are great for kids.  It teaches them how to work on a team, how to follow instructions, follow through on commitments, as well as learn the skills for that sport in an controlled, safe environment.  The physical activity is great exercise, and can teach a lifetime love of exercise and staying in shape.

What we don’t want our kids to learn is how to be a poor sport, or how to yell when you don’t get your way, or that winning is the only goal.  Adults need to remember that the goals for children may be different than adult-oriented goals.  Kids are observant and many of our own behaviors come from what we learned from our parents.  I know that I’ve said things and thought with horror to myself, “Oh no!  That sounded like my dad!”  You can hear it from your own children when they say things back to you, and you realize that it sounded just like you.  (And, of course, it’s usually behaviors that you aren’t proud of!)

So, teach your kids that putting their best foot forward and trying their best is the key.  They may never play professional sports, or be a star athlete, but they will learn to love being on a team with their friends, be proud of achieving small personal goals (“You did a great job kicking the ball towards the goal today!”),  and feel good about completing a season. 

If your child happens to have a talent, support them, and make sure that they are participating in a healthy way and not overdoing it.  Take them for regular check-ups with their doctor to make sure they are cleared to play.  If they have an injury, have it checked by a physician before they do any further damage by “playing through the pain.”  Children heal quickly, yes, but they have looser ligaments and tendons, and are still building their bones and muscle mass.  They can injure themselves more easily and can do more permanent damage if not treated early.

That being said, organized sports are much more common and can be great fun.  Keep your kids healthy and safe.  Make sure that they have the proper equipment and protective gear, and they will have a great time.