All parents enjoy watching their children succeed. From an early age, we track their achievements, measuring them up against other kids and often going out of our way to aid their success. This is particularly true with athletics. I think we all can agree that it’s fun to be a team parent when your son scores three goals or your daughter is chosen as team captain. But how should you respond if your child is not athletically inclined?
It’s important to consider the age of your child when discussing this issue. How you react to your child’s sports involvement will help shape his character as he grows and develops. Here are some important things to keep in mind.
It’s a great idea to involve your child in sports. At this age, however, parents need to remember that it should be about involvement only. Pre-K and elementary sports exist to expose children to a variety of activities, introduce them to the importance of exercise and teach them about teamwork.
While you may believe that your child will be the next LeBron James, sports experts agree that you should not make that assessment when your child is five years old. It’s best to expose your child to a variety of activities during this time period, remembering that he or she will likely not be good at all of them. Instead of focusing on ability, place the emphasis on the experience—and having fun.
By middle school, most kids know whether or not they’re good at sports. While it’s usually obvious to their parents, kids make the discovery based on how much time they spend sitting on the bench or according to what their teammates are saying.
While it may be difficult to watch your child fail at a particular sport or to sit out for most of the game, it’s important to react with encouragement. Talk about it, especially if your child is upset.
It also helps to assess your child’s interest level. If your son has been playing youth soccer for five years, but he is not improving and is not enjoying himself, it may be time to hang up the cleats and try something else. What activities does he enjoy? Perhaps he’s interested in art or robots or golf. However, if he loves soccer and enjoys the team, yet is discouraged by his lack of play, encourage him to practice more. Remind your child that although soccer might not come naturally to him, he can improve with dedication and hard work.
The statistics don’t lie. Only 1 percent of high school athletes receive a full athletic scholarship. It’s not likely that your child is part of that 1 percent, and that’s okay. High school sports may be very competitive, but they’re about more than winning or who gets the most playing time. They are largely about responsibility, commitment and respect.
If your child plays high school sports, but he isn’t the star of the team, focus on the contribution he’s making and what he’s learning from the experience. Remind your child that his participation is important even though his contributions may differ from those of his teammates. If your child practices but still doesn’t make the team—or he struggles to improve—celebrate the things he does well. Never discourage him from trying something new and remind him that at the end of the day, it’s better to be a good sport than to be good at sports.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide.