My son just started playing soccer this past year and I have been thrust into the world of being a Dad watching my son compete at something. Throughout my coaching career I had really amazing and really awful experiences with Dads. What is it about working with our children around sports that creates this anxiety and anger at times? Why are some Dads so hard on their kids and sometimes seem more driven than the child? I have many theories about this but I will save that for another time. In this post, I want to help you encourage your son or daughter in whatever sport they are playing. I also want to give you some tips on how you can really come alongside a coach and make the whole experience better. I believe this applies to any activity they might be involved in (like piano, band, dance, etc.), but sports is what I know best.
First, it is so important for you to be aware of your expectations of them as they start the sport/activity. Spend some time discerning whether or not your expectation are reasonable. Then, make specific expectations clear before they make a commitment to a team, and especially before you pay for an activity. Examples: You might point out that devotion to practice is a must. Or, giving their best effort for this season, no matter how tough the sport is, or if they end up not being good at it. You may lay ground work for priorities: God, Family, School, Friends, and then sport/activity (or in whatever order you feel is appropriate). You will have your own expectations, but spend some time thinking through them before your child starts, and then have a conversation with them before they sign-up. (side-note: Don’t be rigid. I remember crying before some football practices and being allowed to skip them because it was hard and I was young. My parents made me stick it out, but I was allowed some grace through it all. Be open to how they feel about the sport/activity and don’t project your feelings or experiences with it onto them.)
3 ways to encourage your kids:
1. Show-up as often as you can; not to interfere, but to just enjoy your child as they enjoy the activity. I learned this from my own Dad. My parents divorced when I was 10 and I moved about 3 hours from where he lived. Soon after that I got into football and it became the dream and passion of mine as a teen. I was not very good at first and then became a decent football player (I mean, I did have 13 tackles in the State Championship Game! Ha Ha). The cool thing my Dad did that encouraged me and showed me true love was show up for all my games! You see, my dad came to every game even when I sat on the bench! He drove 3 hours to watch me enjoy something. I am sure he missed a few, but I can’t remember them. He just showed-up and hugged my neck after every game: win or lose, started or sat the bench. He was there! This is possibly the greatest lesson my dad showed me: unconditional, sacrificial love! I didn’t know it as a kid so much, but as I looked back on my dad as I became a dad, it was huge! Even the things you do that seem mundane or hard will pay off. And don’t forget to cheer loud. Be proud and show it. But don’t be critical of everyone there. Coaches, players, and refs make mistakes, but screaming at them from the stands is not the example when want to set. Don’t be “that dad”!
2. FIND the GOOD. Speaking of our sometimes critical nature, it’s so important to start post-game conversations pointing out what your child did well. Even if it’s in an effort to help them grow, hold your critical feedback for a later time. Check in with yourself the next day and see if it still feels important to bring it up. Remember, they have coaches that are correcting and pointing them to ways to improve, so if you immediately do that then you are echoing their failures and shortcomings. Focus on the positive or just sit with them in their failures. As a Dad, your first goal is not to correct or fix, but to celebrate and be there for them. Encourage them in how to be a good teammate and have good sportsmanship. Those are great things to point out and encourage because those things will make a big difference in their future, and sometimes coaches miss these opportunities. I also know we want to help our child be better at whatever sport or activity they do. Often we have things would could say that would help, because of our experience or knowledge in the sport or activity. So create a safe time for you to talk with your son or daughter. Start by asking them if it is ok for you to give them some feedback about their sport or activity. Then, proceed gently and watch their cues to determine how they are experiencing the conversation. This should look a lot like instructing which you can read more about here.
3. Pray with them before practice or games. This is a great opportunity to place your hand on your child and pray for them over something that is important to them. They need your prayers, and they need to hear you pray for them, especially around these extra things that mean a lot to them.
3 ways to work with coaches:
1. Ask coaches what can be done at home for your son or daughter. Especially at the younger ages, you can help grow your child’s skills at home, but the coach has more knowledge than you, and can give you some good ideas on drills/activities. You can spend 15 minutes with them each evening, which can also make specific time for connection. One side note, make sure you get clear expectations that coaches have for your son or daughter. You can then reinforce those expectations at home. You will probably be less surprised if you know what coach is expecting that year.
2. Allow things to be hard at practice/games/performances/etc. This is not easy. We want our children to enjoy the activity and just have a nice and easy time. Sports/activities teaches and stretches them so much. I am who I am partially because of sports. I learned how much I could handle, I learned discipline, I learned commitment, and so much more. But if I would have ran from the hard times, I wouldn’t have grown. Now pay attention and see if the activity is really just hard or something that is making them miserable. “Miserable” probably needs a change; maybe they aren’t as in to football as you are, or they hate piano. However, if you feel it is something they love, but are struggling with at times, encourage them to stay with it.
3. Speak to teachers/coaches in private about issues. Sometimes a coach does need a conversation that might help your child (or you) gain needed clarity or understanding. I had some bad experiences with parents when I coached that started in public, and I had to ask them to talk with me in private. But I had one great experience that I think is a great example. It was mid-season and we had some injuries, so I had to move players to different positions. One of them was a guy named Morgan. He was young, but a really good kid who wanted to learn and do whatever was best for the team. We ran something called the wing-t which is a confusing offense in football. I moved Morgan to fullback from halfback, which seems small but it is not an easy move. I moved him because I thought he could handle it. But Morgan was feeling confused and worried he had done something wrong. He was a 7th grader and didn’t know how to handle it. So one day after practice Morgan and his dad asked if they could talk with me. We sat down in our coach’s office and Morgan’s dad calmly and respectfully explained some of Morgan’s struggles. Morgan was there the whole time. I had 50 plus kids on the team and basically 2 coaches so I had been oblivious to Morgan’s demeanor lately. I then immediately could address Morgan and help him understand the reasoning and relieve his struggles. You see, Morgan’s dad modeled how to handle conflict respectfully and kindly. So as you have struggles with coaches, go to them in private and talk with them kindly and respectfully. If the issue is between player and coach, you can advocate, but bring your son or daughter along so they will learn to handle conflict correctly. The next time they have a conflict maybe they will handle it on their own!
I hope that helps. If you have any tips or ideas leave them in the comments so we can learn! Keep it up Dads and remember your influence and power.