A wise woman once told me, “No matter where a mother was raised, how old she is, or how much money she has in her pocket, in the vast majority of cases, she wants to give her child a better life than her own.”
Of course this observation applies to dads too.
As a former athlete turned mom who is now raising my children and watching them compete in sports, I can easily draw a parallel between an everyday parent’s concern for their child’s general welfare and a zealous parent’s desire to see their offspring succeed in extracurricular activities. More often than not (especially in countries considered overly competitive like the United States), parents want to watch their kids achieve greater success than they ever personally experienced growing up.
I think this might be the biggest reason why we witness time and time again all across our great country and in our own communities, otherwise perfectly behaved adults lose their minds and their ability to act sensibly on the sidelines at youth sporting events (or spelling bees, or show choir performances, or dance recitals, or debate competitions, insert the activity of your choice here). Mom and dad simply want to see Little Johnny and Sweet Susie win because, one assumes, winning equals success.
And success leads to happiness. HEY REF! YOU SUCK! THAT DAMN KID TURNS THE BALL OVER EVERY TIME HE TOUCHES IT! I DON’T KNOW WHY ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH YOUR COACH CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT! BE MORE AGGRESSIVE! QUIT BEING SOFT! STOP YOUR CRYING! (just trying to make the kids “happy,” right?)
Many of you already know I launched a business last week. It’s a labor of love for me because I believe so strongly in the message I am both trying to spread and continue to practice.
I shared my moment on GiveTheGameBack.com. I would encourage anyone who’s struggling to keep perspective on how to support a child competing in sports to read about that moment. It basically involved someone giving me high praise about my son’s overall positive demeanor and attitude when I needed a gentle reminder that what he was doing and especially NOT doing on the ball field shouldn’t tarnish my pride for him.
A former collegiate teammate of mine read it and took the time to let me know it resonated with her:
“This is such an important conversation. Parents have lost their minds. Please know your words are inspiring for the other end of the spectrum – those of us who have great kids who love sports but just aren’t athletic. As former successful athletes, both my husband and I have struggled a bit to see our son on the sidelines or the C team. But he’s a great kid.”
Anyone who’s ever met me knows I am about as competitive as they come. Winning feels GREAT. Dominating an adversary in a sport for which you’ve both sacrificed years of blood, sweat, and tears is a life experience that is hard to match. There is a reason why my friends tease me about my inability to leave the glory days behind.
But I vow to give my kids the best life possible. It is their life to live after all. I’m guessing the best life possible for them won’t necessarily be measured in wins and losses. It will be measured in remarkable experiences lived, both on and off the court and field.
I challenge youth sports parents and promoters everywhere to join me in this movement.
Written by Heidi Woodard
I think there are so many people who feel the same way, but are hesitant to acknowledge it out loud, because they feel “That’s just the way it is. That’s how you have to be in order for your kids to get ahead in the world today.” I find that frustrating because that wasn’t how it was when I was a kid in sports and school, at least not to the degree it is today, and I managed to grow up to be very happy and meet my definition of successful. All it takes is for one person to stand up and say, “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do something about this!”, and that will give others the strength to find their voice, as well. That is how change happens. I am proud to know the person who is standing up. Keep up the great work, Heidi.
Thanks girl. Your support means a lot.
I have struggled with youth sports through the years for a variety of reasons, parent obsession chief among them. I don’t know that this is too often the case of the parent wanting a better life. Often, it appears, that obsessive parent involvement is the result of unfinished business.
I do think this, youth sports can do great things for children and teens so long as the kids want to be there, and the parents stand clear.
I applaud you for taking up this cause because I truly believe it is a necessary cause, and I wish you much success with it.
Completely unrelated: These more recent pictures of you are disclosing a leaner, more fit Heidi — very obvious. Keep it up. #alwaysatrainer
I, too, believe that sometimes (many times) the parent wants to live out their dreams through their kids…via sports and other activities. I think even the most critical people believe they are justified in their actions. I catch myself shouting sometimes. That’s part of the reason I typically sit away from other adults. We don’t need to fuel each other’s fire unless we’re all positive and constructive. Leave it up to the coaches to guide the players…and do your research when it comes to coaches/programs.
I was a D2 college athlete (softball, like you!), grew up in a household of athletes. My brother played college football. My two sisters were varsity sports all 4 years of high school, but opted out of college sports. My dad is a D2 athletic director and former college football player. Sports is our family, but sports today – we all agree with you… And, recruiting for college sports is even harder than ever before precisely because so many kids are burnt out by the time they’re even eligible for what’s supposed to be the epitome of their athletic career. It’s time to re-focus the focus…
Not to mention the insane number of youths having surgery on ACLs and rotator cuffs before they even hit puberty. If nothing screams crises to anyone, that should.
You bring up an angle I had not even thought of when you mentioned kids not wanting to continue their athletic careers into college even if given the opportunity…because they are so burned out at such an early age. I’d imagine social media (which I am personally a fan of BTW), is making it harder and harder for recruiters to find the type of athlete they want representing their program. Kids go to Twitter and Instagram to vent and brag. Where once off-the-cuff comments shared to only their own teammates are now publicized to the world, today’s student athletes face far greater scrutiny in my opinion. I’m guessing you and your family can step back and appreciate how much those years of competition meant to you. Sports SHOULD be a positive experience no matter what the child’s age/ability. Thanks for commenting.
My kids aren’t old enough for competitive sports, but I’d like to think once they get there and they choose to play, I can be a fraction as supportive as my dad was in my soccer days. He was there at every game – home and on the road. He wasn’t a cheering kind of guy, definitely not a yeller, he was just there to watch and be supportive. It meant the world to me, just to have him there.
We need more fans like your dad out there today. Every kid just wants to know they are supported. Every kid just wants to have fun. Every kid just wants to play the game that they love.
Even a board game inspires competition in our house. My dad never let me win, so I knew I had truly earned it if I did one (one of the rare times). However, now I am totally different with my six year old. I let him win a lot, but stress the importance of statements like good game and thanks for playing with us. The importance of losing gracefully is art we should teach our kids too 🙂
Your first couple of sentences about your dad made me chuckle because I have yet to lose a game of ping pong in my house since we got the table on Christmas. I justify my need to win by telling myself I’m making the kids better. (If there was an emoji that showed a dramatic eye roll, I would insert that here.) Yes, you are absolutely correct about teaching kids how to lose gracefully. One quote I published on my givethegameback.com site is: “Kids must learn how to win graciously and lose humbly. Adults must learn how to level set expectations. Because, at the end of their playing days, every athlete should feel pride in what they’ve accomplished, not shame for what never was.”
Thanks for reading and commenting.