Updated: May 9
My “last” sport’s child is finishing his college soccer career. We are currently in his final fall collegiate soccer season. He is on a highly ranked college team, he is the captain, a center back, and having the time of his life! This is it for me… I am on my youth sports victory lap. After over 20 years as a youth sports parent, I am watching my son finish an inspired collegiate career. I feel fortunate, as all my children enjoyed and learned so much from youth sports. I feel sad, as a big part of that life is coming to a close. That is, until the grandkids show up :)
Our four children, Josh, Jacquelyn, Daniel, and David, all played sports growing up. All four played in youth clubs and our local public high school. Daniel went on to play college soccer. Our children played soccer, basketball, swim team, lacrosse, cross country, track and flag football. My wife, Patti, and I were very involved. We coached, we managed, we were board members of local sports clubs, and we traveled all over the country.
In college, our four children have all been academically successful. All graduating with, or on track to graduate with, academic honors. I credit their sports training and discipline - “the athlete’s mindset” - for a big part of their academic success. They learned to set and pursue goals, compete as part of a team, fight through pain, manage disappointment, be a self-starter, manage time, and train outside scheduled practices to be successful in their sport. The athlete’s mindset is a recipe for life success.
We want the most for our children. We want them to lead joyful and purposeful lives. Youth sports can be a great teacher. To this end, the following are my "Top Ten" suggestions for youth sports parents and developing the athlete’s mindset.
Let’s start with a reality check. Based on U.S. aggregates, there is a less than 1% chance your child will receive a college sports scholarship and a less than .1% chance your child will ever make money playing professional sports. Given this reality, the best youth sports strategy is to play the odds. Start by having the proper mindset about the purpose of youth sports. Focus on the 99%.
Think of youth sports as a FUN way to teach discipline, goal setting, physical fitness, time management, and all the aspects of an athlete’s mindset. If sports start as fun when children are young, sports are more likely to stay fun in their adolescence. Fun helps children retain information and encourages curiosity.
Encourage your children to play a wide variety of sports before high school. Once in high school, kids will naturally start to specialize. Have kids tryout for high school sports. As an example, cross country is typically a co-ed fall high school sport. It is a great way to get in shape, socialize with boys and girls, and establish that first freshman high school friend group. Emphasizing friendship teaches leadership. Emphasizing sampling teaches an openness to new learning.
Children get sad when they lose a game. That is ok. Losing is part of life and learning to leverage disappointment is best accomplished when young. Consistently “getting back on the horse” is a great life habit. Learning to use disappointment as a motivator is a great life skill.
Encourage children to play sports where getting hit on the head by another player is a foul or an accident, and NOT an expected part of the game. Take care of the brain, your kids will need it! Thoughtful sports choice teaches resource and risk management.
Body typing matters. Consider the bodies of your children’s biological parents. Encourage sports that fit their anticipated young adult bodies. Anticipating environmental realities teaches strategic thinking.
Children grow at different rates. Most sports leagues group kids by age. This grouping approach physically advantages early bloomers. Our children were late bloomers. If your child is a late bloomer, have them play on teams that make sense for their current skills, abilities, and physical nature. Don’t worry, they will catch up! Not being on the top team teaches goal setting, teamwork, and being appreciative.
Our children loved sports. We let them play as much sports as they wanted, as long as they were successful in school. If grades suffered, sports time was reduced to provide more study time. Our children understood that good grades were the rent they paid to unlock the fun sports door. Managing trade-offs teaches time management and discipline.
As a parent, it is important to volunteer and support youth sports. A parent’s involvement sends a positive reinforcing message to their children. And, for goodness sakes, please be quietly supportive on the sidelines. Referees miss calls, coaches miss substitutions, and players make mistakes…. It is all part of our children’s learning process. The vagaries of sport teaches self-advocacy, self-control, and to manage the truism that sometimes life is not fair.
Finally, if your child possesses the desire and aptitude to play college sports, I suggest: a) Have them consider colleges where they can get good grades. Avoid using sports to get into a stretch school. b) Go to a college where they will likely get playing time. c) Unless they are a bonafide professional prospect, encourage them to play for a college that emphasizes the student part of the STUDENT-athlete mission. Seek a balance between sports, academics, and social life. D3 and some D1 programs often offer a better balance. Many “higher level” D1 programs are geared more toward professional prospects and/or professionalized coaches. There is an old saying, “If you are not paying for the product, you ARE the product!” In D1 sports, your child could have the worst of both worlds, both being a sports performance product AND paying for it as a non-pro path athlete. Bottom line, only go into D1 sports with your eyes WIDE open.
Most important… enjoy your children’s great enthusiasms and their sport-enabled growth. You will be running your victory lap all too soon!
I have been blessed by so many great people contributing to “The Education of THIS Sport’s Parent.” Below is an incomplete list:
Patti, my amazing wife - Your tireless dedication made our children’s athlete mindset a reality. Your cross country running experience continues to be an inspiration.
Neal Abravanel and Michele Claude - you both ran an exceptional basketball referee program. Our children are so lucky to be graduates.
Marie Williams - one of the greatest basketball coaches I could imagine for Jacquelyn. Your words “Use It!” still resonate.
Sheri Landfair - a gifted swim club leader that taught our children responsibility, leadership, and the value of hard work.
Joshua Culver - an amazing track coach that taught my Josh to push himself beyond.
Bo Amato - irreverent, irrepressible, and a talented high school and club soccer coach. Daniel and David greatly benefited from your enthusiasms.
Justin Chezem - the perfect college coach for Daniel. You have done a great job taking over for Steve Shaw and you have a bright coaching future.
Porter Hulett - my late Dad taught me the athlete’s mindset and the love of sport.
Finally, we are fortunate for the many coaches, teachers, administrators, and volunteers that are an important part of our children’s athlete mindset foundation.
Some of my favorite sports resources:
High School Students
10. College Success!
Career and Beyond