The Biggest Mistake Parents Make when Raising Athletic Kids

I'm a Soccer Dad
I'm a Soccer Dad

I'm a soccer dad. Well, not yet. Starting tomorrow, I will be though. To this point, all I've been is a Soccer Stepdad. Virtually no difference, but still, it bears mentioning that tomorrow my 4-year-old triplets begin their pursuit of the beautiful game and as of that moment, l officially become a soccer dad. And semantics, notwithstanding, I couldn't be more excited.

But before I tell you why, first let's rewind a bit, shall we?

I've always been into youth sports. Even when I was a bachelor, I coached many a basketball team, attended countless contests in the capacity of proud uncle, and always rooted for my little guys, regardless of whether or not I could lay familial claim to them or not.

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But never did I cheer as proudly as I did when my (step) daughter began her athletic career. Because, as any parent knows, seeing your child compete is the ultimate way to have skins in the game. And that's not always a good thing. Especially if you're kinda competitive like me. (I will KICK YOUR BUTT in ping pong. RIGHT. NOW.) Because if you don't watch it, your competitiveness could shine through on the sidelines. And you probably don't want that to happen. Unless you fancy becoming an accidental YouTube star.

I read something once about youth sports that really spoke to me. (I wish I could remember where because I'd obviously link to it - tried to Google it, but couldn't find it) Its essence was this: the biggest mistake parents make when it comes to their children's athletic lives is living vicariously through those lives, thus transferring their competitiveness onto their kids, as that translates into unwanted pressure which can turn the games they play into anything but.

Actually, that's the part of the article that I think any emotionally available person could figure out on his or her own, so that little tidbit didn't exactly blow me away. But this did:

Once the final whistle blows, most children, particularly younger ones, are totally done with that game. As in, they're ready to go back to being a kid again. Which means the last thing many of them want to do is discuss the game. Yet so many parents do just that. And that translates into the child feeling pressure in that particular sport.

So there I was, all those years, making certain I never went certifiably apeshit on the sidelines (to great success, by the way), only to be blowing the deal on the car ride home. Because I'm most definitely the dad who likes to break down the game - to point out the subtle nuances about key moments thereof, and it was only after reading that article that I finally understood why half of the time Alli's face would gloss over during such conversations.

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Did you catch that? Half of the time. Which means that the other half of the time her face wouldn't gloss over. Which meant to me that some of the time, at least, these conversations were welcome ones. How was I to tell one time from another? There was no way, I finally decided. So, as hard as it was, I quit bringing the games up altogether. And it turned out we still had our fair share of post-game chats (about - get this - half as many as before), but Alli was always the one to bring them up. And you know what was missing from every one of those conversations? That glossed-over look.

And that tells she was into the conversations. That she didn't feel pressured into them. Instead, they probably came off as the back-and-forth learning moments I'd intended them to be back when I was the one bringing it up, all because I gave her the choice of when they should and when they should not go down.

It's early - Alli's only 11. But I have a hunch that one day, she could be a really, really good high school soccer player. Who knows - she might even have what it takes to compete at a level beyond that. But such predictions are pointless because so much could happen either way. Still, there's potential and that excites me.

Even so, we'll never see what that potential is if we suffocate her. And, according to that article, at least, I may have been starting that process of suffocation without even knowing it.

As you can probably tell by now, watching Alli participate in sports has been quite fulfilling for me. And part of the reason is that it's been so fulfilling for her. Children can learn so much from the lessons to be found within team sports.

But part of the reason is because I now realize that parents can learn so much about themselves through that process, too. As such, I'd like to think that, when it comes to youth sports, I'm scarred but smarter.

Related: 7 things you should NEVER say to a kid

Regardless, tomorrow, my three junior associates will begin their athletic careers. And as I said at the very beginning of this post, I couldn't be more excited about that. Part of the reason is because past experience tells me they'll derive so much benefit from their exploits on the field.

And part of the reason is I know I will, too.

- By John Cave Osborne

For 20 things you need to know to be a good sports parent, visit Babble!


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John Cave Osborne is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on such sites as Babble, TLC, YahooShine and the Huffington Post.

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