Most of us want to help and encourage our kids to help them succeed. But too often, that line blurs over into pushing. But when you have a talented kid who isn’t a self-starter, who would rather sit on their phones or play video games, is it ok to do a little pushing once in a while? One of the questions we get asked the most at ilovetowatchyouplay.com is how much or how little I should be pushing my kid. I have three kids who have all competed at high levels on various teams, and one thing is for sure, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
The Issues Many Parents Struggle With
- Will they regret it later if we don’t?
- Isn’t our job to help push them when they need a nudge?
- If I don’t push them, they will fall too far behind to make a high school or good club team.
- They need to be pushed out of their comfort zones.
- If I am putting this much money and time into their sports, they should be equally invested.
- They say their goal is to play in college, so this is what that takes.
- If I push too hard, will they quit?
- How do I handle moody teenagers whose drive changes with the wind?
- How do I push and not harm our relationship?
- How long do I need to push for?
John Brown, whose three sons all became star wide receivers at USC, Notre Dame, and Stanford, explained his parenting style like this; it was like pushing a car up a hill, when it runs out of gas or needs a nudge, you have to be there to push. But once you get it to the top, it can coast down. Even with his highly successful kids, he admitted he was often the driving force behind a lot of their training and workouts.
In an unofficial ilovetowatchyouplay.com poll, 58% of the 157 parents of collegiate athletes who responded said at some point their child wanted to quit. Several said they ‘supported’ their athlete through it, listened, and talked through a lot. Only a few hinted at pushing them. And by far, most said it was time away to recharge their batteries or reconnect with their reasons for wanting to play the sport initially that led them back to it.
I recently shared a Positive Coaching Alliance article. Former Olympian Summer Sanders is quoted as saying that parents should match their kid’s level of commitment. This is excellent advice, and it really spoke to me. But there is still one issue I have with this: Kids don’t stay at the same commitment levels for very long. Their goals might stay the same; to play in college, make their high school team, or start or get a certain amount of playing time. But the commitment level in my experience is much more fluid. When they enter into the teenage years, their minds and bodies are going through so many changes. It would be near impossible for them to remain consistent at anything. These times can be very difficult for parents.
Some Meaningful Thoughts
You don’t want tension around sports to define their childhood and teenage years. If it becomes a consistent point of contention and argument, back off. Don’t allow sports to make things any harder than they already will be; puberty already does an excellent job of that.
But it can be very frustrating to sit back and watch as your child de-prioritizes their childhood goals and dreams. I know it was for me because, as their parents, we have been right along with them step for step on their journey. Most experts agree that at about 13 or 14 is where we need to start stepping back anyway. At this age, we should be moving away from coaching and advising our kids and being at the center of their sports to more of a sounding board or a safe place to land when times are tough. Unfortunately, this is also when most kids drop out and when many parents feel like they need to push.
There is no one right answer, but do your best to keep communication lines open by not getting upset or forcing the issue. Try to have real, open, and honest communication about their goals and what it will take to reach them. And don’t be afraid to give them some time away from the sport; it might be just what they need to re-focus and re-ignite their passion. And most importantly, strap in because it’s going to be one heck of a bumpy ride. But know that you’re not alone, and neither is your child. It’s all just part of the journey.