In the past few weeks fall sports have started back up. And as they did, millions of parents began to live vicariously through their kids once again.
There’s nothing that I enjoy more than watching my kids do what they love. A few weeks ago I listened to my daughter play a song on the piano that she had composed a week earlier. It was brilliant, and I smothered her with praise as she played the final note.
Unfortunately, the baseball diamond that my sons play on aren’t quite as civil as the piano room in our home. Neither is the soccer field my daughter competes on. And, as an uber-competitive, proud, sport loving parent, I get pretty darn excited watching them play. And, of course, I want to see them do well.
Unfortunately, kids sports ooze overbearing parents and childish politics. It’s nearly impossible to avoid.
Knowing that I’ve had several kids go through various phases and levels of house and travel sports, I’m often asked how to deal with it. Here’s the advice I give to others.
Get real about how good your kid really is.
I’m continually surprised by how many parents seem to be managing their child’s athletic career in order to “get a scholarship” or play pro ball. Seriously. I’ve had at least a dozen parents let me know that their pursuit of a college scholarship is the reason why their kid is going to a private soccer academy right after practice ends.
In all likelihood, your kid is not the second coming of Joe Montana. If you’re managing their career to become that, you’re likely part of the political problem. In most cases, it’s the parents of those kids that are obsessed with maximizing playing time, stacking their kid’s team, and positioning themselves to influence who else is chosen for the all star team.
By getting real about your kid’s talent you will lessen the pressure that you put on them, their coaches, and yourself. It’s this pressure that builds politics. It’s really not the end of the world if your kid doesn’t start. It’s also not going to kill anyone if the kid you think is half as good gets more playing time than yours. You’re either helping to fuel the politics, or you’re helping take the steam out of them.
Get smart about the team/league your kid plays for.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong about playing to win. There’s also nothing wrong with playing for fun. Some teams are developmental. Others are competitive. Still others are recreational. Politics creep in when kids that are focused exclusively on recreation join a competitive league, or when parents who want cut-throat competition expect the developmental team they joined to sit the those players they deal to be inferior.
Before you sign up for a league or team, make sure to inquire about the philosophy. If you’re looking for everyone to have the same opportunity to play regardless of abilities, join a recreational league. If you want your kid to be developing character traits, athletics abilities, and teamwork, look for a coach who shares your philosophy. If you want the top kids to get all the playing time, go find a team that’s built that way.
Determine how serious your kid really is.
At the age of 4, my son Joseph looked me in the eye and declared, “Dad, I want to focus on baseball” in response to my suggestion that he try basketball. Ever since he has refused to play any other sport, despite of my encouragement. He simply loves baseball and would rather be preparing for the next season than do anything else. He loves practice. He practices his swing in the grocery line. He fakes a throw to second base as he walks through the house. He sleeps, eats, and breathes baseball.
The first key to managing through the politics of youth sports is understanding the true level of interest your kid has in the sport. Most kids aren’t like Joseph. They may like the sport. They may be talented, or, athletic, but they don’t eat, breathe, and sleep it. If this is the case, I suggest that you simply duck out of the politics.
Ducking out means not getting caught up in the shenanigans. Just let the system work. Don’t posture to be on the winning team or campaign for an all star selection. Just focus on enjoying the experience and teaching your kid to have fun and work hard. Anything more is just not worth it.
(If your kid really is “all in,” there’s a way to manage the politics so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. I’ll leave that for another post).
The world of kids’ sports doesn’t have to be a stressful and political experience. The kids just might have a lot more fun if all of us parents toned it down.