Becoming a Champion Sport Parent by Kristin K. Sheehan

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130x87play_like_a_champion_signToday’s guest post was contributed by Kristin K. Sheehan, Associate Director of Play Like A Champion Today™ at the University of Notre Dame.

“Go Hannah!” “Come on Panthers!” Shouts such as these will resound throughout school fields and tracks as parents watch their children participate in baseball, softball and track this spring. Sports are by far the most popular child activity as 65 million young people participate in sports each year. However, 70% of these young athletes will completely drop out of sport by the time they are 13. Perhaps the reason for this is that the words young athletes often hear from the sidelines are not always as encouraging as “Go Team.” One doesn’t need to look far to notice that misbehavior and poor examples for our children abound in the culture of youth sport:  coaches screaming at officials, players retaliating in game situations and parents berating young athletes.

Surely, you must be thinking that the many Catholic sponsored youth sport leagues exhibit more appropriate and Christian behavior. However, the University of Notre Dame conducted research which revealed that Catholic sponsored sport leagues come out statistically worse on all levels of misbehavior, including coaches, parents and athletes. Why should the Catholic church sponsor sports programs if they are not going to live up to our deepest held catholic values such as integrity, justice and compassion?

As a sport parent, what can you do to ensure your child will receive the best that catholic sports has to offer? As a sport parent, how can you insulate your child from the toxic factors that often characterize youth sport today?

The Play Like A Champion Today™ (PLC) Sports as Ministry Educational Series is part of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame. PLC offers interactive, educational workshops for coaches and parents to understand sports in a ministerial context.  Parent Like A Champion helps parents most effectively support their children along their sport journey.

“Parents have the most serious duty and the primary right to do all in their power to ensure their children’s physical, social, cultural, moral and religious upbringing.” Code of Canon Law, 1136.

As the parent of a youth athlete, you are the key person in supporting your child in his/her athletic journey to become a true Champion. As a parent, the following steps will help you to be a Champion Sport Parent.

Recognize your child’s gifts. Typically there are only one or two “stars” on a sports team, but every child brings a gift to that team at that time. Applaud your child’s gifts (not all physical, but some may be of energy or organization.) For example, your daughter may have a gift of bringing the team together when they are down. This role of team “cheerleader” is invaluable and should be applauded.

Challenge your child to set individually-tailored and challenging goals to get better in sport taking care to not compare your child with other athletes on the team.

Put winning and losing in perspective in understanding that in sport and in life, one cannot always be on the winning team. A Champion Sport Parent does not dwell on the outcome (who won) of a game, but on the process (how the game was played).

Offer positive feedback to your child athlete. Research shows that the majority of feedback should be positive in nature. Psychologists generally advise employing a 4:1 ratio, meaning four parts positive and specific feedback to one part constructive feedback.

Send positive non-verbal messages by remembering that actions often speak louder than words. This means remaining calm and in control of your emotions when you speak with your child about sports and your child’s performance. This is especially important on the car ride to and from practices and games.

Praise effort in a specific manner by offering concrete feedback to your child even when the desired outcome was not achieved.

Applaud signs of sportsmanship by pointing out examples of character shown in a game from your child or other athletes. This will build and develop your child’s moral compass.

Encourage discovery by helping your child to actively seek to understand and solve problems on their own rather than telling them the answer.

Also essential to creating a proper environment in sport venues is parental behavior during sport events. In our Parent Like A Champion Today™ workshops, we offer parents “Guidelines for Sidelines” to ensure a truly catholic environment in sport communities. Instead of coaching from the sidelines by yelling directions to your child during a game, more appropriate behavior is to offer encouraging comments from the stands, such as “Go Red!” or “Come on Defense!” Rather than reacting to an official’s call by yelling or gesturing, a Champion Sports Parent treats the officials with respect at all times while understanding they are in a challenging position. Instead of approaching your child’s coach before/during/after a game, thank the coach and the officials after a game. If you have a concern with your child’s team, respectfully request a meeting with the coach.

Catholic Sport Parents become true Champions themselves when they follow the “10 Commandments of Sport Parents.”

On the way to the event…

  1. Ask your child to set goals for that game: a physical goal, a mental goal and a sportsmanship goal.
  2. Remind your child (and yourself) to have fun.
  3. Say a prayer with your child thanking God for the opportunity to play.

At the event…

  1. Be positive with all players, opponents, fans, coaches and officials.
  2. Remain calm and in control of your words and actions.
  3. Take a deep breath and/or remove yourself from the environment if you grow angry.
  4. Applaud good play from both teams.

On the way home…

  1. Ask your child, “How do you think the game went?”
  2. Point out signs of sportsmanship shown in the game.

10.  Express your love for your child regardless of the outcome of the game.

Champion Sport Parents can nurture a lifelong love of sport in their children, help them become higher performing athletes and ensure they learn the right lessons through sport, so young athletes ultimately learn how to live a life of discipleship.

Parents can always remember to root their parenting in prayer.

“Dear God, our Heavenly Parent, we give you thanks for giving us children. Through us, you gave Life to them. Thank you for inviting us to be your vehicle. Our children are our joy and we accept with serenity the worries, fear and labors which they bring us. Help us to be better parents. Help us to love our children sincerely. Give us wisdom to guide and patience to teach our children in Your ways. May we support each other in a mission to bring positive athletic experiences to all of our children. We ask this in the name of Jesus, your Son and our Lord. Amen.”

Copyright 2010 Kristin K. Sheehan

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