What Do You Want From Your Child’s Sports Experience?

If you have children playing sports, or will someday, you may never have asked yourself what you hope they gain from the experience. In the beginning, we usually put little boys and girls into sports simply to see if they like it and to give them an outlet for their energy. But as they get older, Little League, middle school, high school and beyond, it might be a worthwhile question to ask: What do I hope they get out of playing?

There may be, and probably are many answers. One hopes that at the top, or near the top of the list is that they enjoy themselves. We wish for them to look back someday with fond memories – glad they did it. But too often we lose sight of this primary goal. We put so much pressure on our kids, to win – to be the best – to drive themselves, that we unintentionally risk ruining the best part of sports…the pure joy.

At the same time, I’ve written often before about the balance. Sure, some kids play sports solely to have fun and nothing more. And that’s great. However, others, even without parental influence, want more. They want to compete. To improve. To win. And that’s great too. Some of the most valuable life lessons about success and what it takes to attain it can be learned on the field, (or the court – the ice – pick your game).

What else might our kids get from sports? Some of us may wish for our children to learn habits of fitness and good health. Goodness knows that with the ubiquitous electronic distractions facing our kids everywhere, no one could argue the benefit of getting them outside unplugged, and running around in fresh air.

The social aspect of playing on a team can’t be overlooked. All of my children have lifelong friends they’ve made from their teams. And, on the positive side of technology, even after they have moved on from high school, summer or college teams they’ll be able to stay in touch through social media much better than I was able at their age.

I think back to what I hoped sports would do for my kids in their early teens. My only desire was that they’d have a positive structure to their days. I saw too many boys and girls who got to high school, got in with the wrong crowd, had no direction and ended up making big mistakes and potentially screwing up their lives or getting hurt. There is no doubt in my mind that when kids are on a team where accountability and performance are expected, where missteps would be public and have team-related consequences, they are far less likely to stray. Go to school, go to practice, come home. Not too much time to get in trouble with that schedule.

So it is important when we look at the question, “What do I hope they get out of playing,” that we remember we’re asking what we hope they get, not what we get. It is also a good idea to keep in mind that success is a journey, not a destination. Even if our children don’t turn out to be superstars, don’t get scholarships or play in the pros, their sports careers can and should be looked at as successes. If they were positive contributors to a team, became more healthy, figured out the correlation between work and achievement and kept their noses clean, if they made friends and had fun, they are winners.

Sports teach life lessons I doubt can be learned anywhere else. My kids have all had incredible moments of exhilarating joy in their athletic accomplishments. They have also experienced devastating failures that no parent would wish on any child. But you know what? They’re still here. And they’re still playing. And I have to believe that later on, when they eventually hang up the cleats, the way they survived the worst times on the field might end up being the most valuable lessons of all.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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