Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Our Child's Sport: Is It Just A Game?

Recently, after one of my children's soccer tryouts, I was reminded by the over-reactions by some of the parents that for many of us our involvement with our kid's sports has become more than "just a game." Notice I said "us," as I am just a fellow struggler as a dad in this process. I have had four kids move through team soccer, baseball, football and basketball in the past several years. One thing I have noticed is that for us parents there just seems to be way too much energy expended around their sports achievements.

As I watch my kids play I find myself caring disproportionately as to how they do in sports compared to something that will probably be more determinative to their long term success in life, like their academics. Why this sports fixation? Even if I try to hide it with a "cool' exterior when I watch them play, what is it about sports that makes me as a dad get so emotional? And if our kids struggle in their performance, or if we perceive they aren't being treated fairly by the coach, why is it so hard to watch it happen without coming out of our seats?

I think we dads like to hold onto the fantasy that our kid will be the next great major leaguer or pro athlete, just as we may have fantasized about ourselves in our youth. This is "Fantasy Phase-2." For some of us, if our child has talent and the desire to play a sport at the college-level, we can rationalize that to hyper focus upon sports is a financial investment in their education, thereby increasing their chance to earn a college scholarship. But it would be interesting to compare and see if the money spent on the special camps, clinics, elite teams and travel to national tournaments does not surpass the money a student athlete realizes from any athletic scholarship help they may possibly receive.

For some talented athletes their dream does become a reality and that is just fine, BUT for so many of our kids the sports obsession is only a distraction and often becomes a detriment to their academic focus in school and their character development in life. It is for this reason that I have appreciated the coaches my kids have had who stressed character and doing well in school. They used the sport they coaches to help point my kids in a positive direction.

As far as dealing with this parental obsession problem, it has been helpful to me to understand what may be at work below the surface. Here are some considerations:

Is it the desire to see my child do what I couldn't do as an athlete so I can live through his/her accomplishments?

Is it the desire to relive the high I experienced as a youth in my athletic achievements?

Is it the false belief that for my child to be successful in life he/she must succeed in what I think is important (i.e., a particular sport)?

Maybe you do not have a problem in this area but try this out. According to Bruce Brown, parental sports expert, here are some hints that you may have a problem:

Do you find yourself screaming directions at your child at the top of your lungs?
Do you find yourself coaching your child on the field in direct conflict with the coach's instructions?
Do you find yourself getting so upset that it means more to you than it does to your child? (ouch!)
Do you find yourself starting to look to place the blame anywhere except on your child or on yourself when your child doesn't do well?

Men, ultimately our role is to lead our children as they grow in character in the short years we have them in our homes. For some of our kids that path may lead through involvement in the elite level of sports teams in high school and beyond. But for most of our kids, that will not be their path. We need to keep the big picture in mind and not get fixated upon a dream that may not be realistic or be meant for our child to aspire to. After all, it really IS just a game!


Anonymous said...

A good message for all fathers. I know I needed to be reminded of this...

Anonymous said...

After coaching youth sports for over 10 years and experiencing my own children grow thru these programs, I agree that many points in this message are right on. Allowing the kids to enjoy their time in youth sports, by reducing the stress related to "inflated parental expectations", is the one of the best things we can do for our kids during these years.

Anonymous said...

My question is what can we say to other parent that are not on the same page? Do you talk to them? I am not sure what the right thing to do is...

Anonymous said...

I have always gotten caught up in the moment watch my kids play sports. That has made me a little over reactive. I have screamed at the top of my lungs at time and re-lived some of my youthful sprots days through my kids. I have to live it through my kids. If I went out and did that type of activity now I would kill myself. Plus, the screaming keeps my lungs clean.

Cross Addicted said...

I believe that the HOLY SPIRIT lead me and prompted me to offer my experience, with addiction and how this topic correlates to addiction. If you are hiding a addiction , trust that you were lead here by the LORD to seek him so you can experience freedom from your addiction. True recovery occurs only by CHRISTS unconditional love.

This is my story:

I was a addict for 28 years and have celebrated 4years and 4 months of true healing and freedom, accomplished ONLY by the grace of GOD.

Sports as an addiction ??

We are deceived in to thinking that our sincere participation and commitment to the "sports arena" some how protects our children. We believe in and justify our actions by comparing ourselves and/or our children to the "bad apples". The comment I have said and heard is something like this..." Sports provides great opportunities and keeps them so busy that they just can't get in to trouble."
Our commitment and dedication to the whole sports arena augments a child's innate desire to please and be accepted. We stuff and hide our imperfections by making the child drive harder, to become better then the best, so we ultimately justify and adamantly believe the lie, fueling further and further into addiction.
Not Me you say...mmmm read on
On the side line sits two coaches. I call them the coaches of good and bad or GOD and Satan.
The teams are ETERNAL LIFE and ETERNAL DAMNATION. The game is your "choice."
I made many poor choices early in my life, that caused me great pain and agony. I am overwhelmed of how CHRIST has always kept his promises,(when I have not), has always been there with his arms open, unconditionally offering me his love and freeing me from strong hold of addiction. Addiction comes in any form, it has no boundaries and nobody is immune from it. Christ is the only successful weapon to conquering and keeping at bay all addictions
WE as fathers have a choice to be GODLY men, CHRIST centered, making every shot count, every action and interaction count "for just one more"
The unconditional love of Christ is what we all seek.
It is not about "Our child's Sport" rather "it is about the game we choose to play"

Anonymous said...

I really like the last blog..yes, I believe it can a real addiction just as real as alcohal, drugs or sex. Getting caught up in playing wrong game is a good way to look at this issue. Thanks for the thoughts, Cross Addicted!

Anonymous said...

This is a great message especially as the baseball season starts to gear up. My kids are grown and I look back and realize that I wasn't always the perfect dad on the sidelines. I know now that this is a time when kids can have fun and enjoy the sport and enjoy life. I feel bad when I see kids struggling to please mom and dad when they are on the sports field instead of just trying hard and enjoying the game.

The really big picture is to have our kids grow up in a healthy manner and become responsible citizens who love the Lord. I wish I had kept this perspective in my mind when I was watching them participate in their sporting events.

John Erwin said...

I agree 100%. I too coached our kids as they were growing up. It was a great way to meet other parents, have influence on my son's friends and share Christ when appropriate. Now that the travel baseball games are over, I look back at the hundreds of hours we spent on baseball fields all over the Midwest. I enjoyed it, becasue my son enjoyed it. It was always "his call" as to what sports he chose to play. He is now in college (not playing footall or baseball), but we have great memories of those times together. It is all a matter of perspective.
John Erwin
National Associationof Family Ministries

Anonymous said...

I think sports can be extremely benefitial to a kid's character growth, but it must be used in the appropriate manner and in the appropriate balance. To many family can say maybe that they don't put too much emphasis on their child's sports involvement but they are running around like mad trying to take them to all the practices for school sports, club sports etc. Your kids see the amount of time you place on their athletics. So whether you are a loud mouth at the games or just exhausted from the emphasis you've placed on sports, either way you are speaking loudly to your kids!