I generally believe that sports parents need to step back and let the coaches do their jobs and let the kids play. As a leader of a sports-based youth development program and having years of coaching experience under my belt, I have seen many times when parents are just TOO involved.
They are on the sideline directing, yelling, and controlling the game for their child and often the team. They have taken the game away. This has been my thought and my experience as a leader for many years now, until…
I myself have two young children and when I am at their events, it takes every ounce of my willpower sometimes to sit back and watch. Just to let them be coached by someone else, to let them learn on their own, fail on their own, and to let their friends and teammates join them as they learn and grow- together. I didn’t really appreciate how hard that could be until last weekend when my youngest was in his skiing class.
My son is three and he is skiing with the big kids (meaning five year-olds) because the coaches wanted him in that class. Some might find that gives them bragging rights, but quite honestly, it scares me. I am just learning to be comfortable with this form of winter sport (I am learning to snowboard, but same idea), so to have my youngest in this advanced group just makes me a little nervous. However, I told myself that I have to trust his coaches as I would want someone to trust me or my staff, so he stayed in that class.
On Sunday, during his lesson, I was able to sit back and watch him learn to ski. The group was working on turns and when it was not their turn, they had to wait in line to go up the tow rope. My son is not the most patient and being three, he decided to eat the snow during his wait. Unfortunately, once he was down on the ground, he could not figure out how to get up. He knew I was there and continued to look to me to come and help him. He struggled for what felt like an eternity, but was likely only a minute or two. As I watched him struggle, his little eyes looked at me to help him. It took all my might to wait and hope that the coaches would come over and pull him up. But they didn’t. And just as I was almost to the point of losing my parenting mind, over came a slightly older boy who clearly tried to help my son. He fixed his skis into the right direction and tried to pull him up. Then the coaches came over and finished helping him up. Then off he went for his turn on the tow rope and down the hill.
In that moment, I realized two things. One, while I tell parents often about the importance of allowing your child to struggle, fail, and grow on their own, it is so hard as a parent to sit and watch. Secondly, and I think more importantly, I realized that if I had helped I would have taken away so much from those two boys. First, my son would have learned that he was not capable of struggling and working through the problem himself. Additionally, the little boy who helped would not have been given the chance to lead and the chance to demonstrate what he had learned (which his dad revealed later was a brand new understanding he was really proud to know). Sports have so much ability to create the chance for our children to learn what they are capable of and how to help one another up- something everyone can use now and again.
As a parent, I empathize with the struggles of making the best choices for our kids on and off the field, but I encourage you to give them more time than you think they need when they are learning new skills. You never know what your child or one of their teammates might teach or learn. In the end, those are the skills that our children will need more and more as they become our leaders in the future.