Winning or Losing: It’s all about life lessons

By Carol Frey, MD

Winning and losing is part of life. Playing sports is an emotional experience for kids. It builds character. Winning and losing teaches kids about the joy and disappointment in life. The parents of athletes should have good coping skills to handle this emotional roller coaster of kids’ sports.

They need to be good role models for their children. But some parents just can’t handle it. They experience the stress and exhibit bad behavior in many cases, such as yelling at the refs, yelling at the kids, calling the coaches and refs names, drinking alcohol at the games, because it’s too “stressful” to watch. Seriously? This is your kid!

By the way, the parents also need to have good coping skills for the long hours, early wake-ups, long drives to games and practice and tournaments, and endless breaks in play at large tournaments and meets. Add to this the stress of the financial costs of club and high school sports. No wonder the pressure turned up – both on the court and off. Winning has now become a must.

Not every parent has the skills to cope with the bumpy ride that is involved in youth sports. Parents must be able to handle the ups and downs and also to set an example and help the kids cope.

The stress of sign-ups, deadlines, team selection, equipment purchase, lineups, starting positions, private training and trainers, and finally wins and losses will elevate to such a level in some parents that they begin to behave inappropriately. The level of emotional intensity for the parents and the kids is increased as competition and specialization increase. This is a prescription for a parental meltdown in many cases.

Protect your children!

Every investment should be protected and watched closely. Investing in your children is no difference. Or is it? In youth sports, the investment is time and money and emotion on the parts of parents. Giving up time and money is considered a sacrifice. The amount of money and time required to play sports is usually large and can be a hardship for many parents. Sports can bring the kids status in their group of friends, at school, and could even make them famous. Winning can become addictive.

Sports can get your kid into a top-notch college with a big fat scholarship and, therefore, set your child up for a better education, job, and life. Sports can make your child a success! The pressure is on, and parents’ great expectations only add to that pressure on their children.

Parents behaving badly!

There is so much invested, and therefore so much to lose if a child becomes injured – that pressure builds and can result in the parents behaving badly. Add to this the contact with an intense sport like hockey, basketball, rugby, or football, and the intensity of the parental involvement can escalate. No question about it. These are aggressive sports to start with.There is in your face contact. Bravado and a winning culture is just part of these sports.

Think about this: You don’t see a parent jumping up in a concert hall yelling at a child who misses a note during a piano recital. Or a parent throwing something at the stage when a budding ballerina stumbles. But these same parents will scream unprintable, abusive expletives that would make a football coach blush if the same kid misses a catch during a play-off game. So, what can we as parents do to not become that “out of control Mom or Dad”?

My advice is simple:

  • Be there. Let your child know you support him or her by attending the games as much as you can. 
  • Root for your team. Applaud good play – no matter whose side it’s on. 
  • Let the coaches coach. And let the officials call the game as they see it, not you. Remember who wears the whistles. If you go wild, you’ll be sent home, and your kids will be embarrassed. 
  • Let the kids be kids, to have fun and compete. 
  • Support your child athlete because he or she will need to develop mental toughness. 
  • Praise your child for the great catch in the third inning, not the dropped ball in the bottom of the ninth. They’ll learn from both experiences. 
  • Educate. If there is some knowledge you have about the sort, it is okay to review a play, even a bad play, to make it a teaching moment. 
  • Remember, many of the coaches and refs are volunteers, or receive low pay, and should be praised for being there. 


Don't Worry: My Mom is the Team Doctor
Excerpts taken from Carol Frey’s book

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