This is for all the sports moms out there.
Whatever sport your kid plays, a new season is either here or quickly approaching. So, we thought the sports mom might need a pep talk.
Psychologist Dr. Tom Golightly shares the boost you’ll need to get through another season with five mantras for the sports mom to live by.
5 Sports Mom Mantras
Goal #1 – All rides home are celebrations: regardless of outcome, let the ride home (which generally occurs moments following an event) be about the joy of having played. Too often the ride to and from these events becomes too focused on performance. The risk we run in those moments is doing that before an event builds pressure, and rehashing the failures afterward potentially leads to difficult interactions and dwelling some negative aspects of performance. Helping our children find some joy in their journey is a big part of what can make sport participation awesome. Make the emotional tone in the car about having done something our child likes/loves. If our child is struggling to find that tone, ask them 3 things that they liked about the game, and one thing they’d like to do differently for the next match. Most performers don’t want to re-live the events, they just want to be done for the day. Honor that space if they want to take it. But above all else, try and invite a good energy on the ride home.
Goal #2 – Accept your role: as your child levels up in terms of competition in the sports world, generally it is assumed that coaches will own more responsibility for the player’s development. At lower levels, coaches may want more involvement from parents. Do it! You will not regret it. However, at higher levels of competition, this means parents have to take a step back from the on-field, on court, on stage instruction. And this is a BEAST for parents!!! So many failures here in my life. It is time to empower you child to have some interactions with their coaches, and make that less scary. Accepting our role means supporting fiercely, and becoming a front-line consultant for them on how they might go about problem-solving for themselves in those settings. Great performers learn to self-assess and adjust on the fly – We can help them do that, but we have to stay in our roles as dictated by the coaches and organizations in which your child is participating.
Goal #3 – Build skills, not a resume’: We don’t want to conceptualize sport to be about talent. Talking about a person’s abilities limits how we see an individual, and may limit how that individual sees themselves. Discussing how to develop and grow is going to be more advantageous than any one thing in the sports year, including winning. I have watched a ton of pro and college sports (as my wife can attest to, haha), and I almost never hear about how a particular athlete won the U-12 state cup growing up. Every once in a while, they might mention going to the little league world series or a high school state championship, but rarely do they mention anything about club or other youth levels. Instead, regardless of what team or level in which your child may be participating, shift the focus of the sports year to be about growing skills – sport-related skills and what are called “intangibles” in sport. Intangibles are the work ethic and mental skills typically exhibited by successful performers. Some examples of this include: discipline, resilience, grit, goal-setting, managing emotion or anxiety, etc. Talk to them about what they want to work on, and make the year about growth and development, not about the need to win or be better than others by comparison.
Goal #4 – Be team first: Encourage your child to engage sport looking for the best in their teammates, no matter if things are individually going well or poorly. We can foster the growth of important pro-social and leadership characteristics when we help our children focus on the team aspects. I remember one performance in high school – I hadn’t had my best day but my team won. I was struggling to feel good about the win, like I hadn’t contributed. The shift away from my own performance and focusing on the appreciation of what my teammates had done, really helped me regain the right energy and focus for the next week. I learned to start looking for how my teammates contributed to my successful moments as well, and it really took the edge off of the self-judgement. I’ve experienced this with many athletes at ALL levels from club to professional ranks. If we find our child in an environment that is win at all costs it may develop into an every-person-for-themselves situation. Part of that consulting role can be advocating them to look for the positive contributions of their teammates as they move forward.
Goal #5 – Keep it fun: the biggest thing in youth sports, regardless of competition level, is to make it an enjoyable experience. I’ve heard so many college coaches with whom I work talk about really enjoying those early years in sport. Gaining scholarship offers or being evaluated by scouts is a byproduct of committing to doing what you love. We can place our children in situations and manage the work load in a way that doesn’t kill their intrinsic/internal love of what they are doing. That doesn’t mean that every day is easy. There is meaning in the struggle. But it is also joyful to struggle with things you love, instead of being stuck doing something that isn’t their passion or joy. There’s a reason we call it PLAYING sports, not working sports. Encourage these seasons to be full of play and joy.