As the summer winds down and we start trading in our beach buckets for backpacks, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you all a little pep talk. One that can soak in over the next couple of weeks before your kid’s big season opener. A little refresher course in healthy adult spectator expectations and behaviors, if you will. So grab a fresh Gatorade from your budding international champ’s stash, take a seat, and enjoy your own personal pre-game pep talk.
The first and most important thing about this fall season is that it’s not that serious. This is a crazy notion, I know, but stay with me. Youth sports, despite their competitive nature, are actually just for fun! Fields and courts are filled with amazing, developing little humans who are throwing, catching, and kicking leather and plastic things around in order to stay active, learn some cool life lessons, and have a good time.
So guess what? You can relax! No need for yelling. No finger pointing, or name calling. No huffing, puffing or stomping around. You know the attitude you bring to a family beach day or trip to the trampoline park? When you sit and watch your kid play and have fun with their friends. You get to have that same attitude on the sidelines. You can just watch them, and enjoy their enjoyment. Maybe even socialize with some other spectators. You can even chat — gasp! — about non-sports stuff. No need for wagging fingers or perfect video views for your nightly brag-post. Just hang out, and enjoy it.
And because it’s just for fun, you don’t have to make your kid feel like your love and happiness is on the line with their performance. You don’t need to get frustrated when they fumble a catch or miss a goal. You don’t even have to get angry when they move a little slower than you know that they can. Because like I said, it’s just not that serious. And what they really need from you in every area of their little lives at this stage is support and understanding. So outside of them showing some real d*ckhead unsportsmanlike behavior, nothing is really worth reprimanding.
After all, the real reason we are all here — the reason sports have stood the test of time and the reason so many families participate — is because they instill important lessons in our kids. I think we can all agree that learning how to be a good teammate is a crucial life lesson that our kids will carry with them into future real-life, non-game situations. You know, like relationships, family dynamics, and employment. Things they learn throughout the season will teach them about handling wins and losses. They will learn about humility, kindness, and respect — life skills necessary for every communal and personal success. So rather than getting caught up in the scoreboard of things, let’s focus on the bigger picture of creating and fostering good humans. And maybe care more about that.
Because at the end of the day, our kids are so much more than the sports that they play. They are also more than the performances they’re in, the papers that they write, and the instruments they play. And I worry that celebrating, critiquing, or emphasizing any one part of them will create unnecessary stress and expectation on these young kids in a world that already feels like a pressure cooker.
And I know, not everyone agrees with my “soft” youth sport mentality. We all come from different backgrounds and have different values. And some parents, even when well-intentioned, simply can’t help themselves once the whistle blows.
But I urge everyone this fall, no matter where you fall on this sports parenting pendulum, to take a deep breath and attempt a little chill. Stress culture is real, and life is hard and messy most of the time. So, when something can be fun, like a childhood game — let’s keep it fun. Why the heck not?!
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.