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How far should you push kids at sports?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Encouraging or overbearing?

When you have an athletically gifted child, it can be easy to be swept up into the momentum of the sport. Before you even realize what has happened, pick-up baseball at the park has turned into hitting coaches and pitching coaches and clinics and regional team tryouts. Somewhere along the line you may have transitioned from parent going along for the ride with pride (and maybe a little shock) to encouraging parent to something...more. A comment or two from a youth league coach can turn into something neither of you quite imagined.

Mom watching child swim

When our kids our doing well in anything, from athletics to arts to academics, it can be easy to pick up the momentum and take it to the next level. The whole concept of "running with it" is something we were and are encouraged to do, and we encourage in our kids. Thing is, our ability to "run with it" is so much greater than our kids' that sometimes we leave them in the dust - and our encouragement become pushing. The positive turns to a negative - but it doesn't have to, with a bit of self-awareness.

Pushing physically

Kids bodies, into late teens and early adulthood, are still developing. As such, you as a parent need to take action to make sure your child is not over-training, and possibly causing more permanent physical damage. "No pain, no gain" may be a popular slogan, but for our kids' developing bodies, pain can be a real problem. This kind of pushing can have serious long term consequences.

To be sure you are not pushing your child too much in the physical side of things, establish a relationship with an orthopedist who specializes in adolescent sports medicine. He or she can be a resource for both you and your child when it comes to the stress that happens to a body physically during sports training. Such a physician likely has resources and collegues that can help establish age and development appropriate regimens, and can help head off permanent damamge. Most importantly, listen to this professional! If he or she tells you and your child to back off the training, do so.

Pushing mentally

With so much of sports being mental, especially solo sports, encouraging your child can be a fine line. What is encouraging and supportive and confidence-building one day can feel like over-bearing and pushing the next day. And this is where, as a parent who knows your child best, you have a tremendous amount of influence.

No matter how physically gifted your child, if the child's mental commitment isn't there, the glory will always remain out of reach. Understanding and being sensitive to your child's particular personality and moods can help you work with your child to support his or her efforts emotionally as well as physically.

And sports isn't the only thing going on in your child's life. Particularly as they reach adolescence, life is changing rapidly - and not just the hormonal part. It may be appropriate to work with a school guidance counselor or other mental health professional to understand the bigger picture in your child's mind, and know when and how to encourage your child mentally towards sports in the most constructive manner. Or not.

Backing off

Sometimes, the right thing to do, after working to support and encourage your child's physical and mental efforts in a sport, is to plain back off. That's right, back off. Sometimes it can get to be too much for all of you.

As a parent, this may mean many things. For the long-term health of your child, you may need to insist that coaches or others who have been interested in his or her success back off, you may need to insist that you child back off a bit, and you may need to back off yourself. It can be hard, but often is necessary.

If the desire and skill is still there after a bit of a break, perhaps your child can go back to it. But only if the "running with it" is coming from them.?

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The role of parents and coaches in youth sports

Don Lucia, coach of the University of Minnesota's men's hockey team talking about parents and coaches in youth hockey.?

 

 

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