I’ve loved youth sports and advocated for them since I was a youth athlete myself, so I was so excited to raise youth athletes.
But whereas I remember youth sports being about lasting friendships from teammates you played with year after year and the character you built as you failed and succeeded, it seems to have evolved into something else these days.
Now we’re constantly moving our players from team to team as soon as it seems something isn’t going a parent’s way or we’re pushing our kid to constantly move up to the next level, higher and higher, despite tears of leaving friends behind.
It’s become not about friendships and character building, but wins and game stats and making sure our kid is on the “best” team.
It wasn’t until I sat in on a parents’ meeting of a team in which the parents had been “upset” all season about one thing or another and a parent claimed the organization had turned “toxic” that I started to get clarity on what we as parents were doing to our kids’ youth sports experiences.
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After decades in the classroom, a few years as a high school coach, a youth travel coach’s wife, and the parent of travel youth athletes I had to tell them, “No, it’s not the organization that’s toxic. It’s us—the parents!”
We—as parents—set the tone for our kids.
If they get in the car and we’re complaining about how their coaches did this and did that and what we’re unhappy about in regards to their playing time, that’s what’s going to shape their perception of the game and themselves more than anything!
If we’re telling them the team, other players, or coaches aren’t “good enough” we’re also sending them a bigger message about their own self-worth.
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Some of my best, longest friendships came from youth sports, and looking back I can definitely tell you the losses and the struggles on the field taught me way more and built my character more than a full season of winning and dominating ever did. Yet, as parents today we want to smooth over every little bump on our child’s sports journey.
My own children are decent athletes but they’re not the best. They’ve experienced getting cut from teams and not getting much playing time but even when our kids have a rough season, EVERY season is still a learning experience for them. Even if the season isn’t going how we want it to go as a parent there is still growth and lessons our children will learn from the season that will last them a lifetime.
They don’t need us jumping in and fixing everything for them.
Honestly, I can tell you from experience we will do more harm than good with that approach.
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The reality is sports get them ready for life and we can’t jump in all mad and fix everything for them as soon as something isn’t going our way or their way. We won’t always like our coaches or bosses or teammates or coworkers, but we learn how to work through it and grow from it.
Parents running interference for kids so they can avoid the hurt, struggle, and losses that come with youth sports is what’s making youth sports toxic for kids. We need to back off and let them just play the game—make their own mistakes and learn from them. Grow from the tough seasons and learn the value in overcoming.