Reframing Youth Sports: What Do We Want Our Daughters to Get? Give?

(3-minute read) The temperatures are rising, the sun is shining, and spring sports are back in play! That often means our daughters are getting more exercise and we’re doing more schlepping to practice and games. For many girls, unfortunately, that also means more tears. Whether it’s because they didn’t start the game, get enough playing time, the coach was hard on them and/or they made a mistake during the game, I see (and hear about) these stories more often than I would like. The good news is, it doesn’t need to be this way. The bad news? Very few of us are taking action to prompt changes to the sports culture

You’re probably asking, “How can I change what I (seemingly) can’t control?”  To answer that, we need to first take a step back and think about the reasons we enroll our daughters in sports programs in the first place.

Personally, I want my daughters to be physically active, learn skills, and work as part of a team. But it’s not just about practicing and competing. I also see youth sports as an opportunity for my daughters to gain other valuable life skills, such as commitment, persistence, goal-setting, and communication. I want coaches that applaud positive attitudes, effort, and improvement, while also recognizing every child for what they bring to the table. I also want coaches who serve as role models – ones that motivate and inspire my girls to do and be their best. This approach is what enables them to thrive.

Our children’s participation in sports is an opportunity to help them grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.  In order for this whole-child approach to be successful, all of the adults involved must echo these priorities. We may think we only have control over what we do and how we work with our children, but that belief is somewhat false, especially when we are paying for our children’s participation. We can encourage our child’s coaches (and teachers for that matter) to make the effort to alter their approach so that they can deliver what we expect them to. Perhaps they don’t because they think they’re giving parents what they want. And maybe they’re right. Many of us accept coaches delivering the typical, straightforward program that focuses on drills, practice, and competition, because we want our child in the game and/or building enough talent to potentially get a college scholarship. But we must put our needs and dreams aside, and instead prioritize our children’s needs.

By giving children what they need, it helps them build confidence and self-esteem. When they feel good about themselves and their abilities, they perform better and the entire team benefits. But, if you’re anything like me, you may worry that this approach only reinforces the self-centeredness, “what’s in it for me” and entitled attitude that is so prevalent in today’s youth.

Here’s where you step in (and yes, your daughter’s coach as well if you can get them on board). It’s imperative that we use children’s sporting experiences to teach them about giving. You might wonder how giving can be taught in this context. What I mean is that we should take time to ask our children what they can give to the team and the sport, instead of simply focusing on what they can get. Dr. Jerry Lynch, who is a sports psychologist, NBA World Champion, and founder of Way of Champions, calls this paradigm-shifting question “the most effective question an athlete can ask, and an attitude that every coach must try and instill in his or her team.”

Think about this for a moment. If we can help our daughters reframe the way they think about practices and games, they will be able to walk off the field/court focused on their hard work and contributions, rather than fixating on what they deem as failures. Did she support her teammates and communicate well on the field? Maybe she had two awesome passes that put the team in a position to score (even if they didn’t). Your daughter’s ability to look at what she gave of herself will not only make her feel good about herself and her abilities, but also (hopefully) prevent those tears that every parent hates to see. And as we all know, a positive attitude is contagious, so the entire team benefits.

This approach is not difficult, but it is life changing.

P.S. What our children get out of their sports experience won’t be determined by their talent or whether they receive a scholarship.




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