To Push or Not to Push Your Kids in Sports

To Push or Not to Push Your Kids in Sports

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Do kids need to be pushed in sports? If so, how far?

Have you ever sat next to a helicopter parent at a kids sporting event who is constantly shouting derogatory comments at his or her child?

“Come on; you can do better than that!” “What’s wrong with you?” “What are you doing? Let’s go!” The relentless comments and tone make you want to either punch this person in the face or look him or her right in the eyes and shout, “Can you please shut the hell up? Your kid is doing the best he can!”

I have to wonder if the parent thinks the nasty remarks are going to help the child perform better. Is shouting incessant negative phrases going to cause the child to think, Yes! This is really motivating! I am charged and ready to start kicking ass! Chances are the child will feel just the opposite.

The comments are destructive and hurtful. They can cause anxiety and resentment toward the parent, and they shift the child’s focus from what the child should be doing—trying his or her best and having fun—to fear that he or she isn’t meeting the parent’s expectations and is a failure. These “trophy kid” thoughts ultimately affect the child’s self-esteem and overall happiness.

Then there’s the other extreme: the parent who cheers for the child like he or she would for the Chicago Bulls, constantly reiterating how talented and great the child is, even if that’s not the case. The child can do no wrong in the parent’s eyes and therefore never really sees the need to practice hard or try to improve.

So, do kids need to be pushed in sports? And if they do, how much? This controversial topic has every parent weighing in with a different opinion, and there are factors to consider.

The child might need to be pushed a bit if he or she:

  • Is shy, introverted, and someone who doesn’t take charge
  • Is unmotivated
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Is physically small and therefore intimidated by his or her classmates
  • Does not have a lot of friends
  • Has fears and lots of anxiety

The child might not need to be pushed much or at all if he or she:

  • Is an extrovert and always asking you to sign him or her up for activities
  • Enjoys and thrives in competitive situations
  • Has lots of friends and is constantly making plans
  • Loves sports and team activities

Every child is different, but most kids need at least a little bit of a push when it comes to sports. Think of pushing more as “guidance” simply because, as parents, that is our job: to guide our children in school and toward sports and activities we think they would enjoy and excel at.

Oftentimes, we know our children more than they know themselves. For example, my 14-year-old son is extremely tall for his age. His father was a college basketball player, so given those two things, I’ve always pushed him toward basketball.

My son is also very shy. The divorce might have something to do with it, but he has always been a quiet person with a sweet, gentle nature. He doesn’t take charge. In other words, he won’t call up friends and say, “Let’s go shoot hoops,” but it’s not because he doesn’t like basketball or his friends. So, I push.

He doesn’t say, “Mom, please sign me up for another basketball league,” even though I know he wants to play. So, I push. I push because he is the kind of kid who needs a bit of pushing, and over the years, my pushing has paid off.

Basketball makes him happy and excited, and he enjoys being part of a team. My goal isn’t to make sure he plays for the NBA someday but to get him exercising, give him the opportunity for enjoyment and fun, open him up to experiences that make him feel part of a team, and have him be challenged by something that allows him see his improvement and makes him feel like a million bucks.

My 12-year-old daughter is the complete opposite. She is extremely outgoing, is constantly calling friends, and has asked me to sign her up for every basketball program available. With her, no pushing is necessary.

The thing about being a Solo Mom is you don’t have a spouse to help you decide if and how far your child needs to be pushed. There’s no one there to reinforce your conviction that you’re doing the right thing.

Another single mom issue is if your ex has a different opinion about whether or not to push your kids. That can cause issues between the two of you and send conflicting messages to the kids.

The best way to handle a situation like this is to try to have an objective discussion about what you both think your kids need and why. Compromise is good, but remember that when your kids are with you, you have every right to handle a situation the best way you see fit. If that means pushing or not pushing when your ex thinks the opposite, then it is what it is.

The bottom line: We all love our children dearly and want what is best for them. Pushing isn’t always easy, and children often will put up a fight to be involved in sports because they could be shy, or have anxiety, fear, or a lack of self-confidence or motivation.

The key to pushing is open communication with your child, which includes enthusiasm and taking charge. In a very nice way, let your child know that he doesn’t really have a say in whether or not he is going to participate in a sport, and if he doesn’t pick one, you will help him choose. That being said, words of encouragement go a long way.

“You are going to be so happy!” “You are so talented, and you’ll see how good you are when you are out there!” “This is going to be so much fun!” “You’re going to make so many new friends!” These things will help soothe a child’s anxiety and could even cause her to have a change of attitude.

It is also important to know when to stop pushing . . . to know when your child has had enough. I have seen children who were pushed too hard become resentful toward their parents and turned off of sports altogether—the exact opposite of what any parent would want for his or her child. However, I have also seen children who were pushed become blissful when they saw how hard work and discipline molded them into better athletes than they ever imagined possible. They also made lifelong friends, came out of their shell, and were just happier in general.

Whether you decide to push a little or a lot, or not at all, just make sure your children always feel loved and know you have their best interest at heart.

Join our Parenting Sister Chat to have honest, confidential conversations with other Solo Moms who are facing similar parenting challenges.

Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.

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