The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports

The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports

(Or Any Performance)

I get concerned about the ways our culture obsesses about young people’s performance. It only takes a walk to a local park to witness the myriad of parental anxiety and dysfunction that plays out on the sidelines. Sports have such potential to build character, perseverance, and skill. Sometimes they succeed, and other times coaches, parents, and mobs of hot-or-cold fans burn out or puff up kids and teenagers in quite damaging ways.

While trying to figure out how to be a different kind of sports parent myself, I stumbled across work by student leadership development expert Tim Elmore. In it he discusses research on what parents can say both before and after the game to encourage their kids, without centering everything on performance (either positively or negatively). Based on psychologists’ recommendations, Elmore suggests the following as the healthiest statements parents can make as kids perform:

Before the Competition: Have fun. Play hard. I love you.

After the competition: Did you have fun? I’m proud of you. I love you.

It gets even better. Researchers asked collegiate athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?

“I love to watch you play.”

That’s it. Nothing aggrandizing like “you’re an all-star,” and nothing instructive like “here are a couple of things I noticed that you can work on.” Just “I love to watch you play.”

So as you gear up for another season of softball, soccer, band concerts, swimming, and everything else remember that you are there for your kids. Ensuring they have fun should be your top priority. Internalizing these six words will help both you, and them, enjoy the game, the season, and the reason you are all standing on an athletic field at 8am on a cold, Saturday morning.