Encouraging Sports without being “That Parent”

How do you encourage sports for your kids? Our daughter started her first competitive team sport this year when the 5th/6th grade team needed to go down to 3rd grade to fill a team with subs. It was a lot of fun to watch her try, and even more fun when I got a chance to help out with coaching halfway through the season.

My husband and I have always promised not to be “that parent” when it comes to sports. Both of us came from families that encouraged positive sportsmanships and pushed us to do well, but didn’t pressure us to perform. However, we’ve both seen overbearing parents, as well as the challenges that can exist for youth – not just their children, but others on their team.

How can you, as a parent, encourage your kids without too much pressure?

Here are a few things that our parents did, that has helped us as we’re cheering our daughter on.


  • Focus on sportsmanship. Few kids are actually going to make a living in sports, but the skills improved by practicing good conduct on the playing field – grace under pressure, collaboration, encouragement, positive attitudes – will be with kids always.
  • Encourage effort and contribution. Our daughter is young for her grade and lagged behind the others simply because she was so young. However, we worked with her to figure out what she could contribute to the team. Two things our daughter excels at are energy and happiness. She ended up winning the team joy award for her positive attitude even when the team was down. She also made an impact in several victories by simply tiring out her defenders running in and out of the lane on the court, which meant the more talented players could come in and score later in the game by running past those defenders.
  • Be conscientious with praise. Don’t praise too much, or it loses its meaning. When you do praise, focus on specifics. In the cases above, instead of telling her she played an awesome game – which, let’s face it, she didn’t – we specifically noted her energy, the fact that she got up after being knocked down, or something else that occurred in the game. This was also something the head coach did with all players after every game, and it was much more effective than generic praise that could be doled out whether or not we were paying attention.

Remember, it’s just a game. If your goal is that your kids have a positive experience, then help make sure that it is!

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