By Lavender Williams, HRI Program Specialist

Children receive many benefits when parents take a genuine interest in their activities. Youth athletics offer a great opportunity for parents to connect with their children and offer encouragement through a physical activity. Whether it is a team or individual sport, many children enjoy having their parents attend practices, games, and events.

However, for some parents, the excitement of the sport and the desire to win can get the best of them and lead to some behaviors that might hinder their child’s enjoyment of the game. Here are three ways parents can connect with their kids through sports without letting their competitive natures get the best of them:

  • Be a parent, not a coach. Unless you are the coach of your child’s team, it’s important to step aside and let the coach focus on the coaching, and you focus on the parenting. This may be difficult for parents who are former athletes, but knowing when to offer advice and when to simply be supportive is important. As part of a team, your child will be receiving developmental feedback from their coach. Additional feedback from you could overwhelm your child or feel like criticism. If you do have additional advice to offer, try to do it at a separate time, outside of the game or practice, and frame it in a very positive manner, such as by saying, “You did a great job at that game the other day. One little thing you might try in your next game is….”
  • For younger children, tend to their behavioral and emotional needs during practices and games. Young children can easily get overwhelmed during practices or games, especially if they are new to sports or experience frustration when learning new skills. Most likely, your child’s coach will do their best to manage the team’s behavior and respond to the children’s emotions during practices and games. However, if you notice that your child’s behavior is becoming a distraction or that your child is extremely upset, the coach will likely appreciate your stepping in to provide a little extra support or behavior management so that the rest of the team doesn’t lose focus. If your child is consistently struggling with behavior issues or difficult emotions (e.g., anger, sadness) during practices or games, find a time to talk with the coach about how you can work together to help your child have the best possible experience.
  • Love them if they win or lose. Showing unconditional love is a primary way that parents can connect with their child. Avoid punishing or withdrawing from your child when they perform poorly in a game. Instead, show how much you still love them no matter what happened during the game. This can promote your child’s positive self-worth, and it also can improve their skills over time, as they’ll learn to bounce back from disappointments more quickly. Celebrate your child each chance you can and acknowledge their strengths, quirks, and accomplishments when they win or lose.
  • Keep the focus on the child. Children not only require a lot of attention, but they request it often. When attending a game, be sure to put your phone away and be in the moment. Parents—try your best to let your child know that you are there to support them; this can be done by making eye contact during the game, being respectful to the other team, and acting appropriately. Your child may become embarrassed if you become aggressive with the opposing teams and act inappropriately.

Whether your children play sports for many years or just for a season, youth sports offer a unique opportunity for you to build a stronger relationship with your child. Take every chance you can find to let your child see you’re interested in them and the activities they care about. Celebrate their successes, and support them through the losses and disappointments. Encourage your child to build positive connections with their coaches and teammates. By making the most of these opportunities, you can help your child have the best possible experience of their time in youth sports.