Navigating Teens and Sports
by Karin Sasser
Both my husband and I played on a high school sports team. It was an important part of our high school years. We always knew we would introduce sports to our kids and were thrilled when they loved playing as much as we did.
But from the beginning, we noticed an intensity and pressure on players that seemed out of place in recreational sports, and truthfully, even once they reached more competitive stages.
When our daughter was in elementary school, she played on a rec soccer team. We were amazed at all the voices from the sidelines directed toward the players. One particular mom was quite vocal towards her daughter, constantly telling her what to do. Finally, this 8-year-old girl turned to her mom and yelled, “Mom! Stop talking to me. You’re not my coach!” Ouch! The truth hurts sometimes.
Years later, a friend of mine gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to cheering your child on at a sporting event. She said, “When you cheer, don’t use verbs.” Think about that for a moment. What would that look like or sound like? Instead of shouting, “Pass the ball!” or “Shoot the ball!” (essentially coaching), you would say, “Great job!” or “Way to play!” (This is true cheering.)
Why is this important? Our kids are inundated with voices – advertisements, social media, school, church, friends, TV shows. They also hear an awful lot of voices on the playing field or court – sometimes too many and saying opposing things. You need to remember that most, if not all, coaches have a plan, even if you don’t agree with it. But listening to their coach is a way for our kids to learn to respect and follow authority and even to advocate for themselves if needed. Our kids don’t need added pressure from us when they are competing. In this respect, they need our affirmation far more than our instruction. You may even want to consider affirming their character in the way they play over their performance. How do you think your child might feel if, instead of correcting their play on the car ride home, you simply said, “I love to watch you play?” or “You do such a good job encouraging your teammates. You’re a great leader!” Pressure is all around them, and as parents, we have a unique opportunity to provide for them a space that is a bit more stress-free.
As Christian parents, we can also help our teens utilize their participation in sports as a way to help them grow in their faith. Playing sports gives kids the opportunity to lead by example.
Their attitude when they get a bad call from a ref or when the coach is conditioning them beyond what they could imagine is a chance for them to set themselves apart and reflect Christ’s attitude.
It affords them the opportunity to build relationships with their teammates where their words and actions demonstrate the character of Christ.
Participation in sports also often offers occasions for trusting God when things are out of their control. It can teach them to rely on God when things aren’t going their way. They may encounter an injury, not get the amount of playing time they want or think they deserve, or even get cut from a team. It is through adversities such as these that their faith is tested and they can learn perseverance and dependence on God. One of the best things we can do as a parent is to help our children see and believe that their identity isn’t tied to their ability as an athlete. We need to consistently remind them that their worth is not found in their performance but in the fact that they are a child of God, loved unconditionally by Him, and always loved and accepted by us.