Sports Parenting: There's a Time and Place for Everything

Recently, my son was playing a soccer game on the grandest stage of them all. No, not the World Cup or Premier League but 10-and-Under travel soccer… And, let me tell you, things can get a bit CRRAAAAZZZZZYYY! Parents agonized as they intensely watched their children compete for potential college scholarships and selection for the US National team.

One incident was easily the most memorable of the day. We were trailing 5-0 in the second half. A dominant player on the opposing team was dribbling the ball down the sideline when he collided with one of our players. Both players fell down in a heap and the boy on the other team winced and grabbed his shin. A booming parental voice from the sideline bellowed out these gentle words of encouragement, “GET UP! I didn’t come here for this!” You want to talk about pain… OUCH!!!

Now, all sarcasm aside, all the parents in attendance wanted to see their child play a great game, have fun and succeed. Those are the hopes and dreams of all parents. Sometimes, despite our intentions, we can do more harm than good. As parents, we need to understand there is definitely a time and place for everything.

“Appropriate time and place” is the theme of the song “The Gambler” sung by country western legend Kenny Rogers. The song has an insightful, catchy refrain (Feel free to sing along if you know the lyrics):

“You got to know when to hold them,

know when to fold them,

know when to walk away

and know when to run.”

Sounds like great advice if you are in a Texas Holdem tournament, but how exactly does this relate to being a sports parent? It doesn’t, the song has been stuck in my head all damn day… KIDDING!

The gist of the song is that there is a time and place for everything and knowing how to act in the moment can save a lot of financial capital in poker and a lot of emotional capital for your child.

If we were to adapt those lyrics to a new song called “The Parent,” the refrain would sound a little like this:

“You got to know when to hold them,

know when to scold them,

know when to talk away,

and know when to have fun.”

Knowing “how” and “when” is critical when it comes to fostering your child’s sense of self and emotional well-being. Encouraging your child is great, a little coaching is fine too, but timing is everything.

Unfortunately, there are two traps that can trip up sport parents at times:

  1. Coaching from the sideline – Yelling instruction or being too critical of your child while they are competing is more distracting than it is helpful. It may be difficult to step back a bit during competitions but it will lessen the pressure your child experiences. As I like to tell my son, my job is to be his Uber and a member of his fan club, not his coach.

  2. Analyzing performance during the car-ride home car – The ride home is the moment your child is most emotionally vulnerable. Practically all feedback will be perceived as negative and disapproving by your child. Let the car ride be a judgment free zone. We have a thing called a “dime fine”. Once the car door closes, any talk about the competition ceases of you have to pay the other person 10 cents for every comment. If your kid wants to rave about how proud they are of their performance or how much fun they had, by all means, wave the penalty fees and listen exuberantly. Otherwise, just crank up the High School Musical or Teen Beach soundtrack and belt out the lyrics as if you are a contestant on The Voice.

The moral is… Don’t gamble with your child’s happiness. Be there for them and know there is a time and place for everything!