Some years ago, my 9-year-old daughter, Katie, and her soccer team had just lost an elimination game in AYSO soccer. She was crying and looked distraught. I ran out on the field to console her and said, "Don't feel bad, you will have many more seasons to win."
She looked at me and said, "I'm not crying because my team lost, Dad. I'm sad because I won't get to see my friends on the team all the time."
In that moment I started to rethink the differential in parental perception and goals from that of their athletic children.
The first involvement in youth sports, usually soccer, can be a time of extraordinary empowerment for young people. It can also be a time that crushes self-esteem. This is the first experience in organized sports for children. It is the first time that they see real differences in comparative athletic talent. They may be on the same field with kids who have started a year or two late with larger bodies and more developed skill sets. What is the goal in their participation?
No one issues parents a driver's license to advise their kids in their sports experience. Do we tell young people to be like young " Vince Lombardi's" and win at all costs, or is participation and having fun the key? When a child is not getting much playing time, playing a position they don't like, the team is constantly losing, or they do not like the coach, what do we advise them to do? Be stoic, keep trying and learn character -- or assert themselves and complain in an effort to improve their situation?
Type-A parents are intervening across the country with behavior that ranges from screaming criticism from the stands, to yelling at coaches, to physically attacking coaches and umpires. They worry about their own pride, because their child's performance is a reflection on them, or insert adult ambition or anger into the situation. Children may listen to parent's admonitions, but more importantly they carefully watch how a parent acts. They may be uncomfortable or embarrassed by how their parent is behaving. Many kids quit youth sports because they don't like the pressure and drama.
Having represented professional athletes for 40 years and watching how hyper-competitive athletes do everything to win but treasure the experience, win or lose, provided a certain perspective. I spent years hitting ground balls, throwing the football, and kicking the ball with my kids and rooted for them, but that was it. I just tried to support them. Unless I was willing to coach or referee myself, I kept my opinions to myself. I tried to always remember -- this experience is for them, not me. They learn valuable life skills in sports -- real life will provide years of competition soon enough.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.