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Parental Guidance: Winning at youth sports is not about the victory

These days, navigating the tricky field of youth sports can be more stressful than fun for both the parent and the child.
/ Source: TODAY

Ah, the world of youth sports! The smell of fresh-cut grass, the pre-game jitters in the team huddle, the sound of cheering parents on the sideline. Those memories and friendships made playing sports as a kid can last a lifetime. But these days, navigating the field of youth sports can be tricky.

From over-aggressive parents to little kids who are just too stressed out to play, the word “fun” has been yanked off the field and benched on the sideline. When it comes to youth sports, for some, it is sadly no longer about the love of the game; rather it is about being the absolute best.

Which is silly, because, let’s be honest here: the likelihood of your child playing a professional sport is very small. Let me correct that. The odds are very, very, VERY small. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t encourage your child to be the best or to not go for the gold. It’s all about your approach and managing your own expectations along the way.

So how do you even get your child interested in playing something? When I was little, my parents had a simple philosophy: TRY EVERYTHING! From soccer and softball to basketball and swimming, they cast the net super wide in order to let me find something that I really loved to do. If you start young and expose kids to all different kinds of activities it will allow their confidence to grow on and off the field.

As your kids get older and start to excel in a sport, the competition level increases and the stakes can get higher. So how do you and your budding athlete not get caught up in all the hype? Keep post-game talk simple. Taking another page from my parent’s playbook, it never really mattered to them if we were good or bad on the field. After every game, they said the same exact thing: “We loved watching you play today!” That was it. They never admonished, judged or critiqued. Those simple words never deflated our spirit; instead it encouraged us to keep our chins high if we lost and to try harder next time, even if we played the best game of our lives.

So what’s the net-net with youth sports? It’s a tough and tricky game to navigate because we all want the best for our kids. If you lay a strong and supportive foundation for your little ones, who knows, you might just have the next Olympian in your household — and have fun along the way. Good luck!

Do you have any thoughts on navigating the youth sports field? Do you have an idea for an upcoming Parental Guidance? Please tell us on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ParentalGuidance: @megancolarossi, @williegeist, @today_parents. As we all know, being a parent is the toughest job in the world, but it’s totally worth the wild ride especially when we get a little help from a friend!