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Sports Parents: Is What You Say Actually What Your Athlete Hears?

We recently came across a great post on about sports parents’ sideline behavior.

One comment in particular, from a youth soccer player named Lauren, caught our attention. In the post she says, “The major problem is my parents. Dad’s cheering embarrasses me. Just before I shoot in soccer, he yells, ‘Pull the trigger!’ It’s so awful.”

Now there are more than enough horror stories out there about sports parents berating the coach, official and even the players themselves and the kind of harm that does do a youth athlete, but what about a situation like Lauren’s?

Her dad didn’t say anything negative to her or about the other team, he wasn’t trying to undermine her coach, he’s just cheering her on from the sidelines; how could that actually hurt or embarrass Lauren? It all comes down to how your youth athlete interprets what you say.

Maybe Lauren feels pressured by her dad to score every time he tells her to “pull the trigger.” All of the sudden she’s worrying about what’s going to happen if she doesn’t score — will her dad be disappointed? Will he be upset?

Maybe she really is just embarrassed that the whole field can hear him. Those few moments before she shoots are critical and require her full attention, but if she’s more worried about her dad on the sidelines she might not notice the defender coming her way and she’ll miss her shot.

Parents, whether their child is involved in sports or not, have to remember that what they say and mean isn’t always what their child hears.

Think about it like this — let’s say you have a 7th grade daughter who decided to join the middle school cross country team. After one of her races you start talking about her time and where she should have held back and when she should have pushed harder or tried to get in front of another girl.

Does this mean you’re not proud of her for what she did accomplish? Of course not! But you have to be careful that your attempt to help her do better the next time isn’t interpreted as how bad she did this time around.

That’s why it’s so important to point out what your youth athlete did right and celebrate that fact in addition to talking about what could be changed. You need to temper the bad with the good.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss what went wrong or what they need to work on, just make sure it’s constructive criticism. If your little leaguer struck out because he or she swung at bad a pitch telling them to “do better” next time isn’t all that helpful.

Instead, make a plan to spend an hour one Saturday where you’ll throw all kinds of pitches (good, bad and ugly) so they can get better at judging when to swing or not. Help them get more confident in their skills and abilities as a youth athlete.

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and yell something (hopefully encouraging) from the sidelines, but every now again you might want to check yourself before you cheer. Try to make sure your cheers/comments are as positive as possible so there is no room for misunderstanding.

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