In Parents' Role in Youth Sports, Problems in Youth Sports

A parent asked me the following question, which I have repeated with their permission: “If I have been guilty of all the things you’ve advised us not do – i.e. coach, criticize, go on and on, get too involved, put my child under pressure, etc., how do you undo the damage done? My best intentions have had unintended impacts on my child’s self esteem & performance, so how do you make amends?

MY RESPONSE: This is a really important question for you to ask. It takes courage to honestly look at your own behavior and acknowledge that you have been making mistakes.

Being a parent is incredibly difficult work and emotionally evocative for all of us! As our children go through their developmental stages, we get dragged along, frequently reliving past issues that we thought had been long resolved. This gets exacerbated when our kids compete in sports.

However, we do our most powerful healing and teaching in our parenting role when we can acknowledge to our children that we have made mistakes and are genuinely sorry! And then we follow this up by changing our behaviors. How you specifically express this depends upon your child’s age, but in my book, it is never too late to apologize and begin to heal your relationship with them. I do this work with children and parents all of the time and I can tell you it has a profound positive effect over time on the parent-child relationship.

You can literally say to your child, “I believe that I have said and done many things that have been hurtful to you. I only want you to be happy and enjoy your sport and I realize that I have been over-involved, pressured you and unfairly criticized you and I now realize that this is not OK for a parent to do.”

I might then say to them, “I don’t want to treat you this way anymore and I want you to let me know what would be more helpful to you?”

The important things for you as a parent to then do in this situation are to put aside your guilt, forgive yourself, understand that you’re simply human and be more aware of your interactions with your child in the future. Thank you for sharing your concerns and pain, and I hope this was helpful.

PARENT’S RESPONSE: I am so grateful that you even replied! And very grateful that I stumbled across your site. I recognised myself immediately and recognised behavior I knew in my heart was wrong. I have had, only yesterday, that exact conversation with my child and we both shed tears. Thank you for your advice and taking the time to reply – I understand change is now needed, not just empty promises and I will commit to this. I will also try to take your advice about forgiving myself, but that might be easier said than done as I feel quite ashamed to have behaved this way. I love my child more than anything and can’t really explain why I have made such mistakes! Thank you so much for your time.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: You can’t parent without making mistakes! We all do the very best we can with the information that we have available at that time. The key here is to stay open to learning and to continually maintain the courage to honestly look at ourselves!


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