It’s been said that there is no guide to being a parent. While true there are lots of available resources from which to draw inspiration. Please allow me to present my step-by-step guide to helping your child get the most out of their extracurricular activity.
Step 1 – Bring Them to Practice
This seems simple, but so many parents have a difficult time getting their child to attend their practices or classes. “I don’t want to go,” their child says. “It’s too hard,” they say. And then…too often mom and dad not wanting to “force” their child to do anything give in and allow the child to stay home. “I guess he just doesn’t like insert sport name here.” “I guess insert sport name here isn’t for her.”
Your child doesn’t have a sport problem. They have a discipline problem. They don’t want to quit what they are currently doing to do what they’ve committed to doing. You letting them skip only makes this discipline problem worse and soon they will be an undisciplined adult that other adults will complain about on social media. I see you Maryville Speaks Out.
How do you overcome the push back when it’s time to leave for practice? First, start by telling them the afternoon game plan that morning before school. Simply say, “Today when you get home from school, we are going to do your homework and then go to insert sport name here.” Be sure to remind them of this when you pick them up from school too. Next, don’t let them get into an epic Fortnite battle or play with their friends in the neighborhood 15 minutes before you have to get in the car. I recommend having them clean their room 15 minutes before. They will never be more eager to “have to” go to practice.
Step 2 – Let the Coaches Coach
Once your child steps onto the mat, the court, or the field they belong to the coaches for the next 30-90 minutes. Sit back. Relax. Read a book. Post about the undisciplined teenagers that annoy you on Facebook. Talk to the other parents. Anything really except talking to your kid.
At best you are distracting them. Sporting competition requires a certain level of focus. You are now teaching them to stop paying attention to their sport to look at you periodically. This can be dangerous as most sporting practices involve at least some element of danger and a distracted participant can cause injuries or be injured.
At worst you are undermining everything the coaches are trying to teach your child. I know you don’t want to hear this, but your child needs to be disciplined from someone other than you. They need other authority figures. They need to learn that mom and dad are not the only people they should look up to, listen to, and respect. Let the coaches begin to teach these life lessons. Both the news and Youtube are full of examples of what happens when children don’t learn them.
Step 3 – Be a Cheerleader not a Coach
More children quit sports because of the drive home than any other reason. “Mr. C, what do you mean?” I mean that your child has just completed practice. They’re sweaty and smiling. They say their goodbyes to their coaches and teammates. They walk to the car and throw their stuff in the back. And once they take their seat and the doors close…mom and dad launch into a 15 minute discussion of what techniques they messed up on, how they weren’t as focused as they should have been, and how they didn’t give their best effort. Oh, and don’t forget about the comparisons to the other kids at practice. Kids just love hearing those. Don’t you?
Instead, try these words: “I love watching you practice. It looks like you really enjoy it.” And then don’t talk; ask. Ask questions. Get your child to talk to you instead of you talking to them. We all want our children to open up to us. This happens by asking them questions not by telling them your thoughts. No yes/no questions allowed. Here’s a starter list of questions:
- What drill did you enjoy the most?
- What techniques do you feel you are the best at?
- What do you think you need to work on the most?
- Who is the hardest working kid on the team?
- Can you work as hard as him/her?
- Did Coach talk to you? What did Coach say?
Step 4 – Give Your Child Every Resource Available
This one sounds self-serving. I know. I actually contemplated leaving it out entirely, but I feel that it is a vital part of your child’s training and eventual success. Get your child all of the equipment, swag, and training possible. The more invested a person is the more committed they are. Period. If your child is wearing their team’s logo on their clothes and carrying a team backpack they feel like they are a part of something. When they go to practice with equipment that other kids don’t have they feel special. When they attend special training sessions, camps, and private lessons to supplement their regular practices they grow. These kids may not become the best at their sport, but they don’t quit. Which means that they will eventually get the most out of their activity.
I know that this can be a touchy subject, and many of our children simply don’t have those opportunities. If you do take advantage of them. If you are able to help someone who can’t, then do so. We’re all in this together.
Step 5 – Try Everything
So this one is the very opposite of self-serving. I encourage parents of young children to try it all. Baseball. Martial arts. Football. Soccer. Drama. Your child should be exposed to all of this. Then around middle or high school after participating in many activities over the years allow them to pick their specialty. This is when passion begins to develop.
That’s not to say that they have to only do one thing at a time. In many cases one activity can be done a couple days each week while another is done on the remaining days.