Parents are always wondering how hard they should push their kid. We all know that an intrinsically motivated athlete is the best kind, duh. How many teenagers do you know want to get off their phones and work on their jump shot after a long day of school and practice? I have three kids, who have all competed at high levels on various teams and one thing is for certain, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
The issues many parents struggle with:
- Will they regret it later if we don't?
- Isn't it our job to help push them when they need a nudge?
- If I don't push them, they will fall too far behind to make a high school or good club team.
- They need to be pushed out of their comfort zones.
- If I am putting this much money and time into their sports, they should be equally invested.
- They say their goal is to play in college, so this is what that takes.
- If I push too hard, will they quit?
- How do I handle moody teenagers whose drive changes with the wind?
John Brown, whose three sons all became star wide receivers at USC, Notre Dame, and Stanford, explained his parenting style like this; "it was like pushing a car up a hill. When it runs out of gas or needs a nudge, you have to be there to push. But once you get it to the top, it can coast down." Even with his highly successful kids, he admitted he was often the driving force behind a lot of their trainings and workouts.
We recently posed the question on social media and 58% of the 157 parents of collegiate athletes who responded said that their child wanted to quit at some point in their careers. Several parents said they 'supported' their athlete through it, listened and talked through a lot. Only a few hinted at pushing them. And by far, most said it was their child's time away to recharge their batteries or reconnect with their reasons for wanting to play the sport originally, that led them back to it.
Former Olympian Summer Sanders is quoted as saying that parents should match their kid's level of commitment. This is great advice and it spoke to me. But there is still one issue I have with this: Kids don't stay at the same commitment levels for very long. Their goals might stay the same; to play in college, make their high school team, or start or get a certain amount of playing time. But commitment level in my experience is much more fluid. When they enter into the teenage years, their minds and bodies are going through so many changes. It would be near impossible for them to remain consistent at anything. These times can be very tough for parents.
A few good thoughts I've heard over the years on this:
You don't want tension around sports to define their childhood and teenage years. So, if it becomes a consistent point of contention and argument, back off. Looking back on this short and precious time together, don't allow sports to make things any harder than they already will be; puberty already does a good job of that.
It can be very frustrating to sit back and watch as your child de-prioritizes their childhood goals and dreams. I know it was for me because we have been right along step for step on their journey as their parents. Most experts agree that at about 13 or 14 is where we need to start stepping back anyways. At this age, we should be moving away from coaching and advising our kid and being at the center of their sports, to more of a sounding board or a safe place to land when times are tough. Unfortunately, this is also when most kids drop out and when many parents feel like they need to push.
There is not one right answer, but do your best to keep communication lines open by not getting upset or forcing the issue. Try to have real, open and honest communication about their goals and what it will take to reach them. And don't be afraid to give them some time away from the sport, it might be just what they need to re-focus and re-ignite their passion. And most importantly, strap in, because it's going to be one heck of a bumpy ride. But know that you're not alone and neither is your child. It's all just part of the journey.