Parenting Your Child in Competitive Sports

Kimberly Gaskin

Long-time friend and Spirit of Purpose VP of Marketing Kim Gaskin offers practical advice to parents of young competitive athletes.  Kim is the mother of a competitive cheerleader, President of the New Jersey Cheerleading and Dance Coaches Association as well as the head coach for the 2011 National Championship Cheerleading Team at Burlington Township High School in Burlington, NJ.

As a coach and a parent of two children in competitive sports, I realize that the lessons learned while participating in today’s sports programs are intense and teach children the “realities” of life at a younger age then I experienced in my life. Last year, my daughter tried out for her all-star cheerleading team and made the senior team and was extremely excited and over-joyed! A month after she made the team, another girl joined the team and my daughter was moved to an alternate position. Of course this was difficult for her to understand at the tender age of 12, and honestly, as a parent you have many options of how to coach your child through this kind of situation – which I found even tougher since I’m a cheer coach.

My daughter was experiencing a “Pivot Point” in her life. Pivot Points are those events, situations and moments of life-defining choices. When things don’t work out the way we want, we can choose to change direction, quit, blame others, point the finger and give up. It’s hard to escape the reality of feeling failure. The truth is failure is an experience when we fall short of our success or achievement, yet this experience gives us great opportunity to redefine ourselves and learn how to uncover the truth of who we really are.

When talking to my daughter, although she was in tears, I realized that she looked failure in the eyes and it fired her up. It made her look inside herself to find ways that she could use her talents and skills to do more, be better and achieve her goals. As a parent you want to fix things and make life perfect for your kids, but this was the moment when I knew my daughter understood what real competition was in the world and mentoring her through this situation made both of us appreciate her gifts. After training harder, understanding what she needed to succeed and keeping a positive attitude my daughter became the youngest team member with a permanent position on the team. This experience allowed her to focus on her talents, identify her passion, and see what was important in her young life.

Parenting a competitive athlete is not easy, yet there are simple things parents can do to ensure a successful experience and create teachable moments – developing real life skills that will impact your child all the way through adulthood.

  • Encourage your child to be coachable. Many athletes need time to learn how to build a relationship with their coaches without parents interfering in tough decisions or issues. There are many styles of coaching and various guidelines that athletes have to follow. Allow your child time to get adjusted to the coaching style and build a relationship with the coach that is open and trusting.
  • Help your child redefine what it means to be a winner. Winning is not about coming in 1st. Many times there are small measures of success by learning a new skills or improvement during the game.
  • Be a good listener. Allow your child the opportunity to express their feelings without judgment. Keep lines of communication open. Be approachable & have empathy for their situation.
  • Help your child redefine the value of competition.  The real competition is within. Assist them in seeing what their skills and talents are and how they can achieve their personal best and be a great competitor.
  • Believe in your child even when times get tough. Experiencing disappointments can break a child’s confidence and it’s a perfect opportunity for you to show your child you love them and believe in them. You are their biggest cheerleader!

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