Athlete, Parent

Learning To Match Your Child's Commitment To Their Sport

My daughter is 12 and plays club-level soccer. To just be frank, she is not the best player on the team; in fact, she is probably in the bottom 25% as far as skill, energy, and intensity. She gets a lot out of soccer, and it is an important part of her identity. In games, however, she is often subbed out, she seems to make a fair number of mistakes and doesn't play with the same, I don't know, hunger as the other girls. Now, I am a PCA-friendly parent. I, of course, never critique her performance, never give her tips or any unsolicited advice, and only tell her how much I enjoy watching her play and how she's my favorite soccer player in the world.

At the same time, though, there's part of me that feels like I should do something to make her play with more intensity, because if she doesn't up her game, she's going to be cut, which will upset her very much. I never played sports, and neither has her mother, so we are not natives to youth sports culture and can't help but think that makes us less helpful to her. I keep telling myself "It's her life, and her game, she needs to decide how much this means to her, and live with the consequences," and that does make a lot of sense to me. But at the same time I fear that she may miss out on sports next year even though there is something I could have done to make her a better player (more than I'm doing, I mean), but that I am not doing because I am afraid of being anything other than unconditionally supportive and happy for her. Thank you!

Response from former PCA Trainer, Roy Lokar

In a video we often show at PCA Workshops, our National Advisory Board Member, Olympic Swimmer Summer Sanders describes her parents as a young athlete and says, "A parents role is to be there when the kids need them, to support them and to match their commitment to the sport, but most importantly to provide that other side of life and make sure they have a well-rounded and balanced life." I always find that comment interesting,.. "match their commitment". Our kids will show us what their goals really are by their enthusiasm and commitment towards it. A couple things come to mind when reading your question.

First, you mention she plays club soccer and doesn't demonstrate the skill intensity or desire as the other girls. Maybe a more recreational situation will allow her to flourish around girls of similar ability and commitment. The second thing is something our National Advisory Board member, Charlie Maher(Sports Psychologist for the Cleveland Indians) strongly advocate against - even with his professional athletes. Players and parents should work hard at trying to avoid the child's identity being too tied to their role as an athlete. I battle this with my youngest son often. He's a young man who plays baseball - he's not just a baseball player. We never know when the ball stops bouncing, and we need to prepare players to be ready for that day without devastation. I had two older, very high achieving athletic children, and my youngest daughter enjoyed the social aspect of sports more than the athletic part.

She was always the loudest on the bench (and one of the "hustlers") but just didn't really have the desire to hone her skills. She was disappointed at times she didn't play as much as she'd like, but that taught her how to fit into different roles on a team. Then when her time came, she did her best. She played high school volleyball, basketball, and softball then when college was approaching, she wasn't sure she wanted to pursue any of those team sports because she wanted to immerse herself in academics and campus life. She was in clubs, drama, and debate - all with success due to lessons learned simply by being around sports. Then when working out at college one day, the track coach saw her and suggested she'd be a good 800 meter runner for the track team. To prepare for track, he thought running cross country would be a good idea. So she did both in college. Her first year running cross country her team went to the Western Regional Finals. After the race she called and I asked, "Honey, how'd you do?" She answered, " I came in 143rd."

I paused, not sure how to respond to that, and she saved me by saying, " ...but I ran 50 seconds faster than my previous personal best, got to run against a girl who was a 4 time National Champion, So I did pretty good for me." Pretty good for me. Isn't that what we want? No comparisons with others. Just competing against yourself. Against your personal best.