Youth basketball can be a roller coaster of emotions for both players and parents. One weekend it’s a big tournament victory and the very next weekend nobody can make a shot and the team goes down to defeat. We all want our kids to have a positive experience in youth sports and sometimes it’s hard to maintain a healthy perspective as a parent. Here are some ways parents can support their young player and keep the experience in perspective throughout the basketball season and beyond.
In the time before, during, and after the game your young player needs you to love them unconditionally. At these moments, your child’s emotions are running high and so are yours as the parent. Give your young player some space and they’ll be willing to talk about the game when they are ready. All kids are different, but most kids don’t want to rehash all of their mistakes immediately following the game. Let the coach be the coach and you focus on being the parent.
If you are both the coach and the parent, make sure you leave the game at the gym and shift back into parent mode once the game is over and you are headed home.
You may have wanted to play varsity basketball in high school and never had the chance. Don’t force that dream onto your child. Living vicariously through your child is a sure way for both of you to be disappointed. Your kid may not have the interest or aptitude to achieve the goals you have for them. Help guide them on their chosen path, whatever it may be. Don’t force them down the path you missed in your own life. Their journey is not about you.
This quote has been around the internet for a long time and it really fits here. “Your kid’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are… But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient and who tries their best is a direct reflection of your parenting.”
Your moods and self-worth should not be tied up in your child’s performance on the court. Tell your child you love watching them play regardless of the outcome of the game. Always remember that you are proud of them as a person and that your feelings about them are not dependent on how they play out on the court. I always try to look for character related actions to praise in my own kids after a game. For example, in a recent game my son helped a teammate refocus after he had gotten upset at another teammate. That type of leadership was something to be proud of that had nothing to do with his basketball skill or the result of the game.
Your child is not going to play in the NBA or the WNBA. Why do you want them playing sports at all? So they can have fun, so they can make friends, so they stay active, so they learn life lessons? Or are you focused on a college scholarship and a lucrative pro contract? Even if they beat the odds and get to make a living playing their sport don’t you still want them to be a person of character with lots of friends?
This is the hardest piece of advice for any parent to follow. I struggle with it all the time. What sport do they play? It’s their choice, not mine. How much do they practice? It’s their choice not mine. I offer them opportunities; the decisions have to be theirs. That said, doing nothing is not an option. Nurture your child’s interests. Help your child find something they love to do and then enjoy their journey.
Too often we forget that kids often just want to be heard. The point of conversation is two way communication. Don’t just lecture your child about what’s important to you. Listen so you know what’s important to them. Use what you find out to deepen your relationship. You can still get your point across and listen at the same time.
If you are critical of every mistake your child makes out on the court, they’ll stop trying new skills and play scared to keep you happy. Mistakes at the edge of their comfort zone through deliberate practice are where growth really happens. Be ok with mistakes!
If it’s a situation that is dangerous to your child, then obviously you need to step in. If it’s an issue they can handle, let them handle it. Kids need practice speaking for themselves, so don’t deprive them of the opportunity to solve problems by stepping in every time something doesn’t go their way.
Many things that are said in the heat of the moment are regretted later. Take a pause and reflect before you say something to your child, to the coach, or to another parent.
Most kids like having their parents at their games supporting them (Although they wish we would be quiet). Be there as much as you can, there’s no better way to demonstrate your support of their activities. If you can’t make a game it’s ok. Often parents get burned out trying to make every game, especially if you have multiple kids. It’s not the end of the world when you miss one.
Along the same line, make sure you attend other activities your kids participate in even if they aren’t your favorite. Show up to their music concerts, art shows, and dance recitals even if you’d rather watch them out on the court. Show you are interested in more than just their games. You’re actually interested in THEM.
Coaching from the stands doesn’t help your child perform better, in fact it’s a proven distraction that causes confusion and poor performance. Yelling at coaches, referees, and players doesn’t help anybody and contributes to a negative culture. Cheer positively for everyone or just sit quietly and enjoy the game.
If basketball isn’t fun, why would any kid want to play? I’ve gained plenty of perspective on this one through personal experience. As much as I want to teach my own kids how important it is to work hard and strive to get better I’ve come to realize that they are not like me. They aren’t putting in the same amount of work that I did at their age. To me, that was fun. To them, it’s not. Basketball is a game and it should be fun.