BYU student Jake Brandenburg warms up the Centennial Junior High School Timberwolves before a youth football game in Orem on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009.
With the news that you are about to become a parent, you immediately begin making plans for your child's future — which could very well include athletic pursuits.
At the first sight of your child on the ultrasound screen, you may have watched that baby swimming around and believed that with strokes like those, he would surely be the next Michael Phelps. And when you felt that ferocious kick, time after time, you may have sworn that you would soon give birth to the next Lionel Messi or Mia Hamm.
These aspirations only get stronger as our children get old enough to participate in organized sports. When your son scores the game-winning goal in his rec soccer game, is the next step is to send him to RSL training camp? When your daughter comes home with an award, having beat all the other second graders in the mile run, do you search everywhere to find another meet she can compete in? And when your 6-year-old son braves a front-flip, then a back-flip off your family's houseboat, do you investigate how to get him on an Olympic diving track?
The above are examples of things that have happened in my family. And truth be told, my husband and I have contemplated “the next step” and wondered how to turn this greatness into something greater.
Having these aspirations and dreams for our children is normal. We see the potential and want the best for our children. However, oftentimes our goals for our children backfire when we as parents begin to push too hard.
When this happens, we run the chance of turning what once was fun into something that is a chore, often ruining any potential our children once had because they just don't want to do it anymore.
So how do we encourage our children without pushing too hard?
As a former Division I collegiate athlete, and one who continues to compete, I have two great examples of parents who knew just what to do; I take my cue from them:
Allow your children to try a variety of sports. Just because that “kick” nearly broke your rib doesn't mean your child is destined for soccer. That kick could be the beginnings of a great ballet dancer, clogger or even a hurdler. Given the chance to try different things, your child is sure to find one that fits.
A little encouragement goes a long way. When your child has a success, make sure to encourage him and say how well he did. Pushing him into doing more than he is ready for will cause added pressure that he doesn't need.
Let your child set the pace. By allowing your child to decide how much she wants to participate, she will let you know when too much is too much. Back off when she asks you to, and turn it up when she wants more. After all, this is her future, not yours.
Refrain from being the “coach.” As hard as it may be to take a step back, your child needs to be able to listen to someone other than you. Being coached by someone else will not only teach your child to respect and learn from other adults, but it will allow you to be the parent, which is a more important role, anyway.
Periodically, check the “fun” factor. Sports are games, and games are fun — or, at least, they're supposed to be. Make sure that from time to time, you ask, “Are you having fun?” By asking this simple question, you will get a pretty good indicator of whether or not your child is having fun. If not, some serious changes need to be made. But, if they are, keep up the good work.
5 ways to encourage your young athlete
Proof that my 6-year-old son, Ace did a back flip off the houseboat at Lake Powell.