Sports parents, I’m begging you . . . please let your kid fail.

Another weekend has come and gone. Another weekend next to parents consistently yelling at the referees and umpires while regaling anyone within earshot of the ways they would coach differently (i.e., better). These are the parents who just can’t bear to see their kids fail. Their kid isn’t getting the foul calls, the umpire’s strike zone was too small, or the coach is simply terrible. After the team meetings, kids walk to parents as the parents loudly exclaim, “Not your fault,” or “The ref lost that game for you.” This not-so-subtle message lets everyone know their kid wasn’t at fault.

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Maybe your kid just didn’t play well. Maybe your kid just messed up. Maybe because they are learning. Maybe because they are a kid. The consistent messaging of telling our kids that it is someone else’s responsibility for their losses is hurting our kids. It’s hurting them in a big way.

Parents, please let your child fail.

I am entering my 20th year of watching my children play competitive sports. I know it doesn’t feel good to see them lose. I’m all too familiar with the fire that wells up inside when we feel our kid has been treated wrongly. I know it hurts us to see our kids in discomfort. But it is so good for them. Kids are able to deal with emotional distressthey can handle the failure.

We are the ones who teach them the idea of failure is bad and that losing is bad. We teach them to look outside of themselves for something or someone to blame. We send the message that we care more about the outcome than we do the lessons learned.  

When we make excuses for their failure, we stifle their resilience. We single-handedly eliminate the opportunity for our child to experience the discomfort of failure, recognize that life isn’t always fair, and learn to go back and try again. When they do go back and experience a bit of success (which doesn’t always equate to the final score), they will learn they can rely on themselves to keep going. Over time, their confidence, trust in themselves, and perseverance increase.

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They may also learn that it isn’t the referee or umpirethat they did travel so maybe they need to practice ball handling, that they did strike out so maybe they need to spend more time in the batting cages. And, maybe . . . just maybe, the referee made a mistake. Well, that’s just life. 

Our children are using sports as a practice field for the game of life. 

The same lessons they learn about hard work, game preparation, being a teammate, working through challenges, and dealing with disappointment will serve them well beyond the field or court. In fact, a small percentage of athletes will play at the college level and a smaller percentage will play professionally. Embrace this opportunity to let your child play, learn, and have fun.

Maybe on the next car ride home, think about this and let the game of life play out. 

Laura Domer-Shank

Laura Domer-Shank, Ed.D. is a School Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and Consultant of twenty-five years who specializes in supporting children and families. Dr. Domer-Shank is also the founder of Brave Embrace, a wellness practice that focuses on empowerment of adolescents girls. She is the wife to Neil who is an educator and coach and together, they actively parent their three children – Cam, Larkyn, and Ella.