Kids will be kids. They’ll want to eat a lot of sugar. They’ll stay up late playing video games at sleepovers. They’ll struggle with prioritizing and time management. As Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents, we can use sports to help young athletes grow through those child-like behaviors and help them perform better on and off the field.
The strategy we suggest here is based on:
- Players loving their sport and looking forward to practices and games
- Players wanting to perform well and contribute to team success
- Coaches and parents reinforcing each other's messages
Let’s start with a typical scenario of a post-practice meeting the day before a game. A Responsible Coach will remind players to get enough sleep, to eat a balanced meal two or three hours before the game and to stay hydrated. In an equally typical scenario, your child is scheduled to attend a sleepover birthday party that night!
You, as a Responsible Sports Parent, might say: "I know you’ll have a good time tonight. Enjoy yourself, and also keep in mind what coach told you about sleep and nutrition before tomorrow’s game. As much as you may want some extra cake and probably stay up late, I also know it’s important to you to do well and help your team succeed tomorrow.
"There is a real life lesson opportunity here for you. All through your life you will have to make decisions about when to treat yourself and when to discipline yourself. It’s important to have a balance. There is a saying that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. That means you can’t treat yourself now and still have something to treat yourself with later.
"In this case, though, if you strike that balance between pleasure and discipline, you can have your cake and eat it, too. It’s fine to have a little cake at that party, and maybe stay up a little later than normal, and as long as you don’t overdo it, you can also have the treat of playing well tomorrow.
"So, when you are making those decisions at the party remember that you have a responsibility to yourself and your coaches and teammates to show up at tomorrow’s game ready to play, not sleepy and with a belly-ache from too much cake."
Of course, the message may change a bit depending on your child’s age. And, you may want to incorporate specific examples from your child’s past – "Remember a few weeks ago how much fun your game was when you were well-rested."
The key is to understand your child’s goals and desires, which may sometimes conflict with each other. These early lessons in discipline and balance – taught within the relatively risk-free confines of youth sports – will reward you and your child for life.