In spite of mini-movements of outcry regarding poor parent and coach behavior at youth events and the intense pressure being put on kids to perform, many of us seem committed to staying on a course that ruins our children’s ability to enjoy games.
Instead of sports being experienced as something good, a category called “play” that God created for our good and His glory, too often we use our kids’ playground to exorcise our own demons.
So in the spirit of Uncle Screwtape, we offer here a short primer on ruining your child’s ability to enjoy sports, a tongue-in-cheek list guaranteed to create instability in your kids in the context of athletics—and perhaps throughout their life.
In more than 25 years of listening to athletes from youth to professional levels process their experience of sports, I’ve learned that these parental behaviors can be counted on not only to ruin their experience of play, but also to create multi-layered psychological and spiritual maladies that stick throughout life.
For maximum results, apply these tips before, during, and after games.
Note: In the process of destroying their ability to enjoy a setting that should be challenging at times but still almost always fun and pleasurable, we will also be training them to despise our approach to life and to reject other aspects of our worldview outside of sports.
It should be obvious, but continue at your own risk.
8 behaviors guaranteed to make your kid playing sports eventually hate organized sports—and resent you in the process:
1. Pursue being “elite”.
Travel. Buy individualized training sessions for your 8-year-old. Travel some more.
Avoid playing with actual friends; instead, partner with kids from other communities also tagged as elite.
Make sure every time your child plays a competitive game she sees flyers and signs that say “select” and “elite” and “showcase” and “premier” and “olympic development” and “Club A-team.”
Bonus: play the lottery. You’ve got a better chance of hitting on a few numbers than your kid eventually playing a college sport, and you’ll need the extra money to pay into the ever-growing racket of the youth sports industrial complex.
2. Use guilt and shame.
This is an around the clock tactic.
One approach is simply to regularly remind them what it costs you in time and money for them to play, and what a privilege and opportunity they have that you never had.
Make sure she knows that her time is running out—especially if she’s not quite a teenager but has obviously wasted her adolescent motor-skill development in countless ways.
Count the ways out loud.
Until she feels like she’s wasted all 14 years of her life. Breed the kind of insecurity that has a chance to become an unhealthy drive later in her teen years and into young adulthood.
3. Emphasize constant correction.
Aggressively point out fixes and offer correctives for every aspect of the game that either didn’t go well or that you thought should have looked different.
Make sure to repeat the same thing multiple times. Critical parent coaching moments like these need to be reinforced repeatedly until they stick.
Make performance perfectionism the standard. While he has no chance of actually being perfect (see: Jesus), we all know the path to elite athleticism includes maintaining a standard driven and clarified by the idea of perfection.
While 3 for 5 is always a great day at the plate, talk on the way home about “giving two at bats away” and how her approach was completely off.
When he shoots 7 for 10 from the field, talk only about the 3 that missed and how to fix them next time. (Occasionally pointing out that “you may not get a next time” is a nice touch that creates even more of the pressure we think will bring out their best.)
Instead of celebrating even for a moment being chosen as one of five girls out of 15 who were chosen to take the end-of-game penalty kicks, keep explaining how a different approach to the ball would have prevented her from hitting the crossbar.
And don’t miss this opportunity to point out that penalty kicks are “something that should have been worked on in the off-season instead of playing video games” (see #2).
4. Downplay the positive.
Whenever someone pays your son a compliment in front of you, make sure to diffuse its positive potential in his life by pointing out what’s still wrong with some aspect of his game.
Better still, take that compliment and turn it back on itself!
“You’re right. He has gotten a lot stronger in the upper body this year. But he still plays soft.”
“His swing is definitely quicker and smoother, but he still can’t hit stuff on the outside corner.”
“He’s definitely wired to be a leader, he just has no idea where he’s going himself.”
Spin it negatively whenever possible. You can harbor pride in your own heart when others compliment your kid, but if you let seeds of encouragement grow in their young and developing soul, it will inevitably lead to arrogance and laziness.
Snuff the positivity out! Don’t give in to the “participation trophy” mentality that’s taking over our country—you don’t always get to feel good in life. The less you allow him to feel positive about himself or how he relates to others the better. Contentment breeds stagnation.