Picture it: You are at a sporting event. All around you, there are sounds of swearing, fans shouting insults at coaches, and people arguing with each other. The air is filled with tension. People are yelling things like:

“Are you kidding me?”
“Use your head!”
“What is WRONG with you?”
“What do you know? You shouldn’t even be an ump!”
“We don’t have all day — make a play!”

Just another day at any professional sporting event right?

Nope. 

This is another day at a youth sporting event. Any city. Any town. Any sport. Any age.

Kids. Teens. Our children.

It is not a scene of which we should be proud. It is not a scene that is made any better if it is followed by a title like “Undefeated” or “Champs.” 

Let me be the first to publicly and openly admit I am guilty of some of these behaviors. Negativity can be a catchy little bugger, and I have found myself quickly sucked into the negativity vortex on more than one occasion. While I am being honest, I should admit that I have probably sometimes been the start of the negativity. But, I’m not proud of it.

I can do better. All of us can do better.

Isn’t it time we hold up the proverbial mirror and take a good, long, critical look at ourselves as parents of children in youth sports? 

Honest self-reflection is not easy; it is hard, painful work, and it is time to do the work.

What would youth sports look like if we all practiced some of the following strategies?

RELATED: Dear Youth Sports Parents: The Only Words Your Child Needs to Hear From You Are, “I Love Watching You Play”

1. Be proud, not boastful.

I get it. There are moments when we want our children to feel like they are the best. Of course, we are filled with pride when our child makes the varsity squad or an all-star team or has the best stats. We should absolutely share that pride with the world!

But, can we find a way to express pride in our children without putting down someone else’s child? Can we teach our children to be proud of themselves without being arrogant? Can we be a bit more mindful about HOW we express our pride? Can we help our children to win with grace and dignity? Do we really need to pit our children against each other? Where will that lead them as they move through the really difficult parts of their childhood and adolescence?

2. Let it go.

It seems our social media accounts have become the high school cafeteria for adultsripe with mean girl behavior and teasing. Passive-aggressive memes and posts litter our social media feeds, often under the guise of being funny or insightful or offering interesting comments and quotes. If we are being honest, though, sometimes they are nothing more than hurtful jabs at other parents and coaches or even other children. 

Will we tolerate such behavior from our own children in a few years on social media? I hope not. So, why do we allow ourselves to stoop so low now? Why do we tolerate it from our own friends when we see it? We are not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like us. People will push our buttons and make us feel crazy, for sure. 

RELATED: Youth Sports Parents: Instead of Raising Star Athletes, Let’s Raise Team Players

It’s our jobs as the grown-ups to find a way to cope with those feelings in a positive and respectable manner. We have to be the role models — even when we don’t want that job.

3. Point out the positive.

Negativity spreads like wildfire. One coach, parent, ump, or child with negative energy can set off a chain reaction of negativity, and soon everyone has it. You know what it looks like. Slumped shoulders. Eye rolling. Head shaking. Slamming things. Muttering under breath. It happens. 

But, do you know what else spreads like wildfire? Positivity. It’s OK to cheer on 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12-year-olds. It really is. Yes, even after they make a mistake — even a huge mistake. You can still find something positive to say in most circumstances. Despite what some people say, I firmly believe that building up our children will NOT create a generation of helpless, spineless, whine bags.

4. Inspire improvement.

I would never advocate only pointing out the positive and I am not advocating for participation trophies for everyone. We should absolutely be providing our children with clear and constructive feedback as we help them to be better versions of themselves. 

What if we were all a bit more thoughtful about how and when we provide such feedback to our children? When are we doing it out of anger and frustration versus the result of thoughtful consideration? Can we encourage our children to reach their goals without demeaning them in front of everyone?

RELATED: Dear Youth Sports Parents: Our Kids Need Us to do Better

5. Remember winning isn’t everything.

Sure, state, district, and national titles would all be amazing. But, if you are being honest, how much would they really truly matter to our children in 10 years? Will such things define them? Will they define us? If so, what does that mean about us? 

Sometimes, it isn’t about the winning at all. Sometimes, some of life’s greatest lessons come from the loss.

6. Remember they are kids.

We are raising children in a much different world and a much different time than when we were children. Today’s children have a lot on their plates in today’s world. Their lives are plenty hard enough right now. 

It’s easy to forget they are still children. Quite a few of them still hold tight to the stories of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Would it be terrible to let them just have fun and enjoy their youth? Would it be OK for them to enjoy the game, even if they lose?

Next time you are at your child’s game, I encourage you to take a moment and breathe it all in. Look around at what is happening. These days are going to be over soon — for them and for us. How do you want your child to remember these times? How do you want to remember these times?

Could we all do better? I believe we can. We should. For us. For each other. 

For them.

Jenni Brennan

Jenni Brennan, LICSW is an author, podcaster, college professor, therapist, and mother. Her work centers around the topics of grief, health and wellness, relationships, and parenting.