Task: Be a good sports parent
The Expert Utah Valley University athletics mental health specialist Kevin ìDoKî Woods was brought on staff back in 2018 specifically to help the schoolís student-athletes manage the pressures of competing in Division 1 athletics. DoK played basketball at UVU from 2007-2013 and graduated with a behavioral science degree before going on to earn a masterís degree in counseling, sports and health psychology from Chicagoís Adler University. Beyond DoKís impressive credentials, he has the emotional intelligence and people skills that make him a trusted advocate for student-athletes at UVU.
This might come as a surprise to few people, but DoK says one of the most common and worst mistakes parents can make when it comes to their childrenís sports is putting high expectations on performance outcomes too early. ìPushing too early and not allowing the child to develop deliberate play can harm the childís enjoyment of the sport and lead to early retirement,î he says. ìThe enjoyment of playing should be what ignites the competition and longevity.î
DRILL DOWN ON DISCIPLINE
Instead of putting the focus on achievement and ìwinningî from the outset, DoK suggests focusing first on developing discipline and consistency with practice and training. ìDiscipline reveals the commitment one has to their dreams, before that dream is established,î he explains.
What do you do when your kid comes home complaining about a coach? First, listen and let your kid vent. ìWhen you give your kids a safe space to speak on the issue and about their frustrations, it will give you the brave space where you can provide feedback and suggestions,î DoK says. And when you do provide guidance, always keep it centered on the childís efforts and what he or she can control.
LET’S BE DIRECT
When an issue does need to be resolved with a coach, DoK suggests empowering your child to speak to their coach by themselves to set expectations and goals. ìThis teaches them not to assume things, but to be open to uncomfortable conversations that can lead to collaboration in the future,î he explains. DoK believes that letting kids practice communicating with coaches and leaders directly from a young age teaches them important life lessons and helps them become independent and self-directed adults.
TACKLING TOUGH CONVERSATIONS
But what about when a parent does need to step in? DoK says that these interactions always go better when the parent has invested some time and effort into establishing rapport with the coach beforehand. And then take these tips to heart:
ï ìRespect the coach as a human being who is providing leadership and guidance to your child through sports. Approach them with a willingness to learn, and have consideration for them as the decision maker.î
ï ìBe prepared with specific questions, concerns or film to provide more context for the coach. Narrow down questions and donít ask something broad like, ëHow do I get my kid to play more?í A better thing to say might be, ëI understand there are different levels of talent here on the team; Iíd like to know what my child can focus on to achieve a higher level of play.íî
ï ìDo not compare kids. When you leave other kids out of the conversation and only focus on your child, it keeps the conversation from getting defensive for the coach. Remember that each player is a piece on the board and the coach needs to figure out which pieces work together well.î
WHEN TO SWITCH THINGS UP
DoK says at the end of a sports year or season, if you have had a bad experience or are considering switching up your team or program, ask yourself these questions:
ï Is my athlete being treated with respect?
ï Is my athlete being taught?
ï Is my athlete given a chance to perform?
ï Is my athlete enjoying the experience?
If the answers to most or all of the questions is no, consider making a change.
EMPOWER + ENCOURAGE
OK, enough talk about conflict! What can parents do to be supportive? ìBe present as often as you can, be interested in their sport, and have fun investigating ways to improve performance,î he says. ìDiscuss diet, sleep and goals. Encourage the fun of the sport. Praise them when they handle a difficult moment well, and praise their willingness to take on challenges.î