Parents want the best for their children – and no one can blame them. But navigating the modern youth sport environment can be daunting to say the least: there is a seemingly endless amount of articles, research, and resources for sport parents. And while this post surely adds to that list, we can guarantee that advice from Rick Wolff is a must-read.
Rick Wolff is an expert in sports parenting issues – a niche to be sure, but one we most certainly value. After a successful professional baseball career, Wolff had the opportunity to pursue his interest in sports psychology, specifically relating to parent-athlete relationships and issues.
And Wolff’s expertise is no joke. He was the co-founder of the Center for Sports Parenting and hosted The Sports Edge (a radio show dedicated to sports parenting issues). Wolff has also authored a number of books including Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way, and The Sports Parenting Edge: The Winning Game Plan for Every Athlete.
One of Wolff’s chief concerns is the sheer volume of misinformation and misleading advice that sport parents are subject to. With that in mind, we want to highlight ________ parenting “myths” that Wolff discusses in The Sports Parenting Edge that have crept into the youth sports environment.
1. The younger your child gets on a travel or rep team, the better.
The idea that players should be placed into competitive programs and situations as early as possible is flat out nonsense. No study has ever shown that early entry onto travel/rep teams leads guarantees success down the road. In fact the real evidence is on the other side – there are plenty of studies suggesting high burnout rates among youth athletes who specialize too early.
We would try to implement a rigorous and competitive adult model of education (think of a university law or medicine program) on young kids, so why would we do the same with sport?
2. Travel team coaches have degrees and/or experience in physical education or youth coaching.
If anything, the opposite is as likely to be true. In short, anyone can coach (or even start) their own basketball club and team, and there are rarely any regulations as to who can coach at what age. Thankfully the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) implemented by the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) is gaining traction among established clubs and tournaments, and more and more coaches are trained and certified every year.
That said, parents still shouldn’t assume – it is still important for parents to do their homework when selecting clubs and teams for their child.
3. The best time to break down a game or practice is in the car ride home.
Another blatant myth. Evaluating your child’s performance with them immediately after their game or practice only places more stress on them. Remember, your child wants to succeed in part to impress you and/or their coaches. Highlighting their struggles or failures from the day will only turn them off the sport – and even turn them off seeking support from you!
Instead, talk about whether they enjoyed the game or practice, what teammates they are hanging out with most, or what they are looking forward to about the next session. Keep the conversation high-level, forward-thinking, and positive!
4. “Top athletes” at the youngest ages are destined to be stars as they grow up.
Sure, this can happen sometimes – there is certainly no hard-and-fast rule. But more often than not, there is very little predictive value in early childhood athletic success. This is because there are just too many factors that can change as children develop – physical development varies widely, kids may lose motivation or try new sports, and parent, coach, and peer support are all huge influences.
Parents (and players) simply shouldn’t get hung up on “who is good now”. Not only does it not matter (now or later), but it distracts from what the focus should be – playing for the enjoyment of the sport.
5. Sportsmanship can only be taught by coaches.
Sportsmanship is one of those words that is most often applied to sports (no surprise there) but really does apply in any context. When you boil it down, sportsmanship really just refers to respect. And when has that only applied to sport?
Teaching sportsmanship starts with the parents. Coaches should address sportsmanship in their practices, but kids spend WAY more time with their parents. Parents should look to reinforce these sportsmanship lessons at home and in day-to-day life with their children.
6. Kids will be happy if their team is winning.
No one will deny the thrill of winning. At the end of the day sports is about competition, and competition has winners and losers. But in all honesty, kids couldn’t care less either way.
Instead, kids are happy if they are playing. Especially if they are playing a lot. Especially if they are playing a lot AND get an opportunity to touch the ball and impact the play. Wins, and points, and championships don’t mean anything if only one or two kids get to enjoy them. The best youth teams see every kid playing and contributing, experiencing success and feeling like they are part of the team.
We always love to hear from sport parents, whether your kid is long grown up or just entering sports now. Share some of your experiences with coaches or teams in the comments below!
Nick Boon is the Coordinator of Youth Development for Canada Basketball. Nick holds degrees in Physical Education & Health and Sport Business Management, and is a long-time and overly-obsessed basketball coach, player, and fan.