As a parent of an athletic teen and tween, I have spent countless hours at sporting events; gymnastic meets, ballet recitals, soccer games, swim meets, karate tests, ski races, and baseball games have occupied my non-work hours for the last 13 years. I have been rained on, snowed on, windblown and sweaty, all in the name of supporting my kids. I have watched the moms and dads, too, and noticed that not all sports parents are the same, and that the way parents handle the difficulties can teach their kids valuable life lessons.
Sports parenting is full of ups and downs. Ups are easy. You cheer the baseball home runs, the flawless gymnastic routines, and the touchdowns. You hug and kiss them when they have the fastest time on the ski course, or swam their personal best at a meet. Sports parents snap photos, shoot video, and collect medals and trophies when their kid comes out on top.
But what about the flip side? What about when things do not work out so well, and the down side comes slamming into view? What do parents do?
Sports offer a big opportunity for positive parenting. Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way. At a ski race last week, I watched a 12-year-old boy run a slalom course. Attempting to navigate around the gates at a high rate of speed offers the opportunity to 'catch a tip' and bring the racer to an abrupt stop mid-race. This poor boy was having a hard time, and eventually wound up tumbling face first, skis gone, down the racecourse, breaking the hard plastic gate as he slid into it.
After gathering himself up, he skied off, disqualified, and met up with his father on the side of the course. Obviously dejected, the boy stood within earshot of the rest of the parents as his father yelled and humiliated him, identifying all the reasons why he fell and did not finish. The other parents, hearing the diatribe, cringed and turned to stare at the father, who continued his rant for another five minutes. As he ended, he ordered his son to use this as a 'learning experience' for his next run.
Positive sports parenting does not mean throwing an order around to 'learn' from our mistakes. Kids know when they have done something wrong, especially when there are spectators around watching them. They do not need reminders of every mistake they have made. What they do need is someone to give them a hug, ask them how they feel, and let them know that there will always be another race, game, or meet, and that they will have another chance.
Teaching kids how to lose gracefully and learn from it is a huge part of sports parenting. Being a caring, compassionate role model ensures that kids will learn that winning or losing does not define their worth. Instead, they learn that life itself is a game, and how you win or lose is the real test.
That is when we learn the real life lessons, after all.