5 Ways to Keep Youth Sports Positive

I once coached a child who only wanted to play on winning teams. If he didn’t think the team was good enough or felt they wouldn’t have a good season, he would move on to another team, or change sports altogether.

It was all about wins and losses for him. When his team was losing, he’d lose interest in the game, but when the team was winning, he was engaged and played very well. I never could figure out how he reached this point at such an early age. Watching him, made me think of how parents can keep the experience positive regardless of a win or loss.

Here are five tips on keeping the sport experience positive for your child:

1. Check your attitude and behavior first

How do you behave at games and on the ride home? Do you model good behavior on the sidelines and in the stands? Are you one to critique your child excessively on the ride home from the game; or do you play the “blame game” in front of your child? If you are blaming the referees, the coach, or someone or something else, your child will likely follow suit and there is nothing positive about that.

2. Teach your child the difference between performance goals and outcome goals

Many kids only focus on the outcome of games. Did we win or lose? It’s especially hard when they are playing on team with many losses. My son once had a baseball season where his team finished 1-27.

How do you maintain a positive attitude during a less than great season? One way is to work with your child on performance goals (things they can control) instead of outcome goals.

Maybe it’s learning and executing a new technique in a game, or dribbling a soccer ball with their non-dominant foot. In basketball, it could be learning to take a charge, or making three good passes to a teammate in one game.

Ask your child to offer more encouragement to their teammates during the course of the game, or encourage them to not exhibit poor body language when things go badly (shrugging their shoulders, throwing arms up in the air, etc.).

It’s important that your child enjoys victories (big and small) along the way.

3. Recognize the value of free play and variety

Your child’s sporting activities doesn’t always need to be structured. Make sure they have opportunities for “free play.” Games such as Capture the Flag or learning a new skill like juggling three balls.

A few winters ago, my three boys got into Speed Stacking, where you to stack and unstack cups as quickly as possible. It was great for their hand/eye coordination and learning to do things in proper sequence. They loved it and it gave them a mental break from other sports they were doing.

More recently my boys decided they wanted to learn how to throw a Frisbee, better. They already threw backhands well, but wanted to improve their forehand throw. They watched a couple of YouTube videos and then went outside and threw for hours at a time.

Again, it was an opportunity to explore something different…without adults micro-managing their every action.

4. Search for positive coaching staffs

Your child’s coaches can have a major impact on whether or not your child has a positive experience.

One of my boys tried out for several travel baseball teams years ago. We chose one that was a much further drive to every practice and game. Why? I really liked the coach and had a good feeling that my son would be in a positive environment. It was well worth the extra drive time.

5. Be willing to help your child pivot to another sport

Sometimes kids lose interest in a sport. Most often the game stops being fun. One of the best things a parent can do to keep youth sports positive, is to help their child pivot to another sport.

Sometimes it’s going from team sports to an individual sport.

Other times, it might be playing something altogether new. Emerging sports such as Lacrosse, Rowing and Ultimate all include many young athletes who first participated in more mainstream sports.

A new game featuring brand new challenges and a change in coaches and teammates may be just what your child needs.

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