5 Keys To Raising a Great Team Player

Stephen Walker, PhD and Alec Baker, PsyD

“The most important reason that kids play sports is because it’s fun.  When it stops being fun, they’ll stop wanting to play, and they’ll stop learning.” – Harry Sheehy

This talk is designed to make the point – there is more to life than sports, and, there is more to sports than sports.  There is no substitute for your child knowing that he or she is your champion, that whatever they do, however they perform, you LOVE THEM unconditionally.  They WANT to please you, but the more they concentrate on YOU, the less they learn about themselves and the lessons that sport can give them.

The Five Keys to Raising a Great Team Player:

  1. Good fortune comes when Preparation Meets Opportunity – “What about Preparation?”
    For your child: Effort is measurable, it is observable, it is volitional – To support your team you must show up, then you must try, there is no greater loss than when someone quits on you.  Nothing great happens without enthusiasm.For you: Try to be completely honest about your athlete’s ability level, their competitive attitude, and actual skill level.  When you appreciate them for who they are – win or lose – encourage their efforts and are not disappointed in them….you allow them to do their best without a fear of failing you. Be the person in their life they can look up to for constant positive reinforcement…learn to hide your feelings if they disappoint you.  These both require preparation.
  2. Goals are the Building Blocks to Success – The Only Difference Between a Goal and a Dream is the Plan for Getting There.
    For your child:  It is really helpful if they understand the difference between Process goals vs. Outcome goals.  An outcome is winning the Superbowl, a process goal is improving your time in the 40 yard dash by 2 tenths of a second.Team Goals must “supercede” individual goals – and there is absolutely no feeling that surpasses what you experience when you achieve goals as a team.For you:  When you are assessing your athlete’s ability level honestly, you understand the many skills required to be successful at higher levels.  Malcolm Gladwell speaks extensively on the “10,000 hours” required for mastery in his book Outliers  (a great read). You can help your child work on each of those skills just by playing with them (not against them).
  3. Be Helpful, don’t “coach” them on the way to the gym, rink, or field…or on the way back…at dinner… Questions for your Athlete: Now – and – for LaterRemember your child has no escape when they are trapped in the car listening to you review every aspect of their play, their attitude etc.  This is the quickest way to diminish your athletes “Love of the Game.”  Let their coaches instruct – and keep your role to – support.The 3 questions every parent should ask their child after a contest is:1) Did you have fun?   2) What do you remember about the game?   3) What will you be working on next?The 3 questions you will be TEMPTED TO ASK – but should save for later.1) Did you win?    2) How did you play?   3) How much did your coach play you?
  4. Good Sportsmanship is Reacting to a Critical Situation in a manner that builds up yourself and your team in a Positive Way.  Teach them to enjoy the thrill of competition, to give it their best, work to improve their skills and attitudes…and to take the bumps, bruises and come back for more.Remember when you were a kid athlete – you were frightened sometimes, you backed off at times, you weren’t always heroic, you fumbled and missed plays.  Try not to re-live your athletic life through your child in a way that adds to the pressure they already feel.For your Kids:  They hear everything you say, but they hear criticism a lot LOUDER.  It is the responsibility of every player to contribute to the team’s collective enthusiasm.For You: Don’t say that winning doesn’t count because it does.  Instead, help develop the feel for competing, for trying hard, and for having fun. Remember: the only thing worse than a bad loser – is a bad winner.
  5. Rituals Make Sport Special: Consider creating rituals at home to celebrate success, excellence, winning & losing, competition, sportsmanship, character, and enthusiasm.
    Rituals are part of the game just as the meeting on center of the ice or field to shake hands at the end of a game with every coach and every player.  When family time is disrupted by intense training schedules and traveling – try to create new rituals, games, and fun things to do away from the sport.  Develop great relationships and friendships with your athlete’s teammates parents.  Work at it.  Enjoy them for who they are and the “team cohesion” for everyone will be palpable to each player and to those in the stands, whether at home or away.

Extra reading:

http://www.podiumsportsjournal.com/2010/02/20/winning-parents-who-is-who-isnt-why-not/

http://www.podiumsportsjournal.com/2011/01/05/five-important-ways-sportsparents-can-best-encourage-young-athletes/