The Advice for Sports Parents You’ve Never Heard Before: It’s Not All About Your Child

Recently, I had a uniquely proud sports parenting moment with my 8-year-old daughter. It wasn’t scoring a goal or winning an award; it was noticing her teammates. After one practice, she shared with me, “Hannah’s kicking has really improved.” This seemingly innocuous comment might seem like a small and insignificant comment from an eight-year-old. But it’s rare and different for an athlete today to really notice others, and it took some work to get to this point. Let me explain.

Just think about conversations with your own kids after practices or games; the conversation is usually centered around them. How was practice today for you? Did you have fun? How did you do? What did you learn? There’s nothing horribly wrong with these types of questions. In fact, I think it’s great to check in with our kids on what they are enjoying, learning, and struggling with.

Except when these are the only questions we ask, we keep the focus on them. Everything is about them: their experience, their enjoyment, and their improvement. Even if they are in a more individualistic sport like tennis, cross-country, or golf, the majority of our children are participating in a team or group setting. And our children influence that environment with how they show up and the type of teammate and leader they are.

A few months ago, I became aware and uneasy with how much of the conversation with my daughter was about her, not the team. So I decided to make a shift as a sports parent. I decided not to make it all about my child.

Recently, I shared this shift in an interview on the Athlete Maestro Podcast when asked, “What’s my number one piece of advice for sports parents?” My answer was, “It’s not all about your child.” As a basketball coach, this was obvious to me, as I had a responsibility for the team’s experience, development, and performance, along with fifteen individuals. As a parent, this is less obvious. 

As parents, we can fall into the trap of believing our sole responsibility is to our child and no one else. Not so. As I share in my book, The Sports Parent Solution, coaches need to help parents feel connected to the team (the other athletes and players), so they are more likely to support the team.

As a sports parent, I have become aware not only of my responsibility to support the team (not just my child) but also to help all my children take responsibility for their impact on the team. To help them become good teammates and leaders. Rather than just lecturing my children about the importance of being a good teammate, I’ve tried to help them shift their mindset—to start to notice and think of others.

So instead of peppering my children with the same traditional questions after every practice about how things are going for them, I’ve shifted my focus to asking about other kids and the team. Here are some of the questions I’m asking:

  •  What did you notice about the team today? What did the team do well? How is the team getting better?
  •  Who on the team is playing well at the moment? Who is improving? What are you noticing about him or her?
  •  What did you do to help a teammate or coach today? Who might need your help next practice? How can you help them?
  •  Is there a teammate who might be feeling left out? How can you include them or make them feel valued?
  •  What teammate did you enjoy playing with the most today? What makes them a good teammate?

By asking these questions, you help your child focus more on their teammates, the team, and their influence. You’ll foster a more selfless mindset, and they are more likely to find opportunities to lead. 

-JP Nerbun

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