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Checking In With Your Young Athlete: Five Tips For A Successful Conversation

Updated on July 10, 2012
Youth sports can be physically and mentally demanding
Youth sports can be physically and mentally demanding

So, How Was Your Game?

Organized sports can be a fun and enriching experience for youth athletes. They can also be pressure packed and stressful. Most youth team sports have recreational leagues and "select" leagues. Parents and coaches often put excessive demands on their young athletes. It is important as parents of young athletes that we check in with our kids to make sure they are feeling good about their sports activities and that we are not pressuring them too much to succeed.

I recently had this conversation with my ten year old who plays select baseball. (Next Ted Williams, I just know it.) We talked on the ride home after his team got an early exit from their second straight tournament. Post-game on that Sunday, it was clear that there was disappointment in the dugout. It was also clear that the coaches were scratching their heads, not sure what to do next, and that parents were becoming frustrated. As a parent, there are two different conversations you can have on that long car ride home. You may have the urge to vent your frustration to your athlete, in that "I know it's not you, but" approach. This is counterproductive and can cause unintended problems down the road. You risk alienating your child and portraying his teammates (his friends) and his coach in a negative way. The second is far more productive. Seek their feedback and let them drive the conversation. Ask simple, unobtrusive questions and resist the urge to qualify, correct or disagree. In this approach, your role is simply to ask and gather, nothing more.

Five Questions For A Successful Conversation:

  • Are you having fun? First and foremost, we need to make sure our kids are still having fun playing sports. Hopefully, they are playing a sport they enjoy. We want them to continue to enjoy what they are doing. When it no longer becomes fun for them, we need to find out why.
  • Do you like your teammates and coaches? Probe for any issues with team mates or coaches. Pressure to perform comes from coaches, parents and teammates. It is important to find out if your child gets along well with the rest of the team and if he or she has any problems with the other kids. You also want to know if there are issues with the coaches.
  • What do you like about your team? Asking about your kid's team and their experiences can sometimes be thought of as suspect by your child. They may want to know why you are asking, suspicious that you may have an agenda. Asking them what they like about their team keeps the conversation positive and can really get the conversation going.
  • Is there anything you don't like? You may be surprised to find out that there are very few things your child does not like about his or her team. Conversely, you may be shocked to discover that they do not like their team at all. Asking this question gives your child an opportunity to vent. Remember to remain neutral to the answers; you are not here to judge or fix things, just listen. Of course, if something is mentioned that requires more probing, then by all means probe. Good follow up questions include asking why they do not like something and asking for specific examples.
  • How would you make it better? This is rather open ended, but necessary to get a valued opinion. You may be told that rocket shoes for everyone would make things better. You may find that in your athlete's expert opinion (because they are the expert), they would make the team better by replacing the short stop, or working in practice to reduce errors. Again, you want to get useful information, so no suggestion or idea is a bad one. You may also find that they do not know, or feel that everything is fine the way it is.

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A Good Talk

The talk I had with my son lasted the whole 40 minute car ride home. I was able to confirm that he is still having fun and doing what he loves, even though the team was on a losing streak. I confirmed that he really does like his teammates and coaches, and found out who is closest friends are on the team. I found out which coach he thinks is the smartest and which is the funniest. He told me he likes the way his team works together and how they are really good at making up creative handshakes (10-year-old logic). I also found out that although there was nothing specific that he did not like about his team, he would make it better by practicing more and "going with the same kids in the infield instead of moving people around". It was a productive conversation, surprisingly mature, and it showed me that he was in the game and knew what was going on around him, something you can never be too sure of.

As parents, we are here to keep our kids safe and ensure a positive environment for them to learn and grow. When it comes to an organized sporting activity, the goal is to make sure they are comfortable, enjoying themselves, learning and growing, and are in a safe environment. We need to make sure their physical and mental health are good. By having this "check in" conversation on a regular basis, we can track progress against our goal. We let our kids know that we are involved, interested and engaged. We also let them know that they can talk to us, which has benefits that go well beyond the post-game conversation.

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