Okay, the headline is a bit of a lie. If your child is going to be coveted by coaches for his or her athletic ability, you will have virtually nothing to do with making that happen.
Coaches know what they want, and they recognize it quickly. The most helpful thing a parent does for a kid is write checks. Other than that, anything more than a hug generally steers the kid a little further toward disenchantment with the process.
Enjoying the ride is tough for parents. Every moment of every day provides an opportunity to reach into a kid’s psyche, tinker, and prompt a more productive result. Sometimes in parenting, less is more.
A scholarship might or might not happen, but it should be the last thing on the mind of the parent of a talented athlete.
Stay away from anger, encourage effort, and finance a lifestyle that will at the minimum – and paradoxically at the maximum – provide a kid with friends and memories.
Here are 10 hard-earned lessons about happy sports parenting from a guy who lived it:
10 – If you can’t keep your mouth shut – or tune others out – sit by yourself. There is another alternative that I employed, which was keeping a scorebook. Otherwise, I rode officials and heard every single comment about my son. Being distracted – or alone – keeps you from saying the wrong thing or hearing it.
9 – Understand cash does not buy equity. Just because you choose to write a check to a team, league, or facility, that does not give you a seat at the table where decisions are made. Pay, watch, love. That’s what a parent does. It’s not pay, manipulate, cajole, criticize, frustrate. Relax, and understand that in ten years, all that will be left are the friendships and lessons.
8 – Behave as a parent to all teammates. The best thing I have ever read in a school handbook was in the Cathedral High School Guide, “Every Cathedral parent is a parent to every Cathedral student” is how I remember it. That sentence gave me license to share my guidance, which occasionally was on point and helpful, with classmates of my son. I extended that to youth sports as well. Parents get wound a little tight, and a dispassionate observer sometimes has a better chance of saying the right thing at the right time.
7 – Understand the goal of youth sports is friendship and striving to achieve. A future in college or professional sports is a longshot whose odds a parent cannot control. The lasting dividend for all those weekends on the road is not the attention of a college coach or pro scout – it’s the friendships with those who shared the down time in the many shabby hotels, and the lessons learned about hard work yielding a positive result.
6 – If the kid cries after failure, relax. When I coached youth baseball and basketball, I worked hard to correct kids out of negative emotions immediately after striking out or missing a shot. Maybe it was a quirky result from a small sample, but being tightly wound had nothing to do with a propensity for longterm success. There is no doubt that a kid should enjoy youth sports, but not smiling after a strikeout doesn’t foretell a lack of ability to succeed.
5 – Understand that adversity is not just a reality in youth sports – it’s the best part. A kid drops a fly ball, misses a free throw, drop a pass, hits a slice, misses a penalty kick, or shanks a dig every hour of every day. It happens to everyone. As with all moments of adversity, the response is the most important part of the moment. In business, adults screw up all the time. If an adult had a moment as a kid where a terrible result was followed by a diligent and measured response, he or she will be far more likely to succeed. Embrace the awful – it’s where successful adults are created.
4 – Never talk to a coach about playing time. Ever. As parents, we are wired to try to solve problems for our kids. Playing time is a problem that the kid needs to solve through a change in work habits or another metric that can alter the image of the kid for a coach. Talking to coaches about playing time will only annoy a coach, and even if you get a positive result (which is virtually unheard of), you will rob your kid of a valuable opportunity to answer adversity and solve a problem.
3 – Find a trainer and coach who makes work fun. If a kid doesn’t enjoy working hard, quitting becomes much more likely. No kid should have to do anything that isn’t enjoyable – especially in youth sports.
2 – Let the coach teach, and you just love. If I could turn back time and change any one thing in my time as a youth sports parent, it would be the drives home from practices and games. I found it impossible to keep my mouth shut. After 10 minutes, I was mostly done with my guidance and corrections, but I can think of nothing I said during those rides that served any tangible purpose other than to purge the vitriol from my system. At a game’s end, hug your kid and get some ice cream. It isn’t about you. It’s about the kid, and it’s likely he or she is hard enough on him or herself.
1 – Focus on process not results. This is great advice whether you are in business or sports parenting. What you can control is what matters, and you can’t control how your kid is perceived by college decision makers. In my business (radio), I am judged by ratings, but I don’t think for a second about them. In fact, I have not looked at them since I started hosting. All I can control is how well I perform every segment, so that’s my focus. It’s not about the result, but the process that gives a kid the best chance at achieving the desired result.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.