This post: 10 Ways to Support Your Aspiring Athlete
Written by: Dr. Cristina Domínguez, Psy.D.
It’s more challenging than ever to be a young, aspiring athlete, not to mention being the parent of one. Late-night practices throughout the work week. Weekend games and tournaments. Bottomless loads of laundry on Sundays. Constant trips to the grocery store just to keep the fridge stocked for your “always hungry” athlete.
As a parent of an athlete (or even a child enrolled in any sport), I’m sure you’ve figured out by now how all-encompassing it is! Saturday morning games go beyond cheering for your child on the bleachers and grabbing pizza with the team for lunch. It’s a big commitment that takes up a lot of time and energy for both your child and you.
As a former college counselor at a Division 1 university, I had a front-row seat on the journey of more than a few student athletes – young adults who somehow managed to juggle the demanding rigor of their chosen sport while fighting to hold their GPA and squeeze in a social life.
And, behind every accomplished athlete I counseled was a supportive parent cheering them on every step of the way.
Whether your child is in middle school trying out a new sport they’ve suddenly become passionate about or you’re the parent of a top high school athlete who has a shot at a full ride to college on an athletic scholarship, it’s important to remember that you’re the grounding force in your child’s goals.
Your mindset, influence and support are key to helping your teen explore new sports, helping them maintain a positive, healthy attitude and even being instrumental in helping them reach their dreams as a high school or college athlete, or even beyond. Here are 10 ways to support your aspiring athlete.
10 Ways to Support Your Aspiring Athlete
#1 Dive Into Their Enthusiasm Right Alongside Them
Get to know more about your teen’s sport of choice. Show up at their practices or games. Get to know their coach, his/her teammates and take part in post-game or post-competition social events. Be their biggest cheerleader. I’ve noticed a significant difference in the performance of students who feel supported by family and friends.
On the flip side, it’s also important to give your child the freedom to fail, to have slumps, to get frustrated with themselves, and their performance. When tension runs high and frustration begins to boil over it needs to be released or it will begin to show in their performance. Giving them a much-needed space to vent is crucial so they don’t take it with them on game day.
#2 School First, Sports Second
As a parent of a “sports kid,” you’ve likely figured out by now that competitive sports – from soccer and lacrosse to football and gymnastics – can take up a vast amount of your teen’s free time. As such, it’s all too easy to put sports front and center. But school needs to come first.
Juggling school and virtually any type of competitive sport not only requires a big commitment from students but also the ability to prioritize their time and filter out distractions so they can hold their focus on what matters – learning. Above all, it means realizing that while their performance on the field is important, their performance in the classroom matters more.
#3 Let Them Power Their Own Passion
If one day your child is passionate about soccer and the next he decides he’s done with soccer and wants to try out for the football team, let him. It’s perfectly normal for kids to try various sports on for size. It’s an opportunity for them to determine what they enjoy and what they might be good at. Above all, create an unconditional, nonjudgemental safe space for your teen to express his/her thoughts, feelings and shifts in passions.
#4 Encourage Them to Eat for Peak Athletic Performance
Because your athlete’s body is put to the test every week, proper nutrition is incredibly important. They also need extra calories to fuel both their sports performance and their rapidly growing body. According to nutritionists, a healthy diet that consists of the basic five food groups, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, protein, grains, dairy and healthy fat is a great place to start. (In other words, a daily diet of burgers and fries won’t cut it.)
#5 Encourage Rest & Recovery
Some sports are far more physically demanding than others, but every sport produces its own injuries. Many young athletes (especially those with their eye on a college athletic scholarship) frequently find themselves in pain or discomfort. That’s why rest and recovery are so important.
Make sure they’re getting plenty of sleep and stock up on recovery supplies. Heating pads, ice packs, and foam rollers are crucial. Stock the bathroom cabinet with tiger balm, Biofreeze and Epsom salt for post-game soaks. If you have a serious athlete, you can also connect with medical professionals who specialize in athletic recovery. Massage, cryotherapy, physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment are amongst the most commonly sought for improved recovery and functioning from practice to practice.
#6 Focus on Building Character, Not Coaching
Of course, it’s great to see your child improve their skill or game, but winning isn’t everything. The true benefit of your teen being involved in any sport is how it molds them to be a better person. Focus less on coaching your child and more on building their character:
- Improving their self-confidence
- Building resilience
- Acceptance of criticism
- Being a good teammate
- Having humility
- How to lose like a winner
#7 Express Your Pride – Win or Lose
Your child needs to know, unequivocally, that no matter what – win or lose – you’re proud of them and their efforts. Far too many parents live vicariously through their children when it comes to sports. Your child’s accomplishments (or shortcomings) in sports should never be used as a benchmark of your acceptance or love. Give your child permission to have fun, to have a bad day, and even totally stink at a sport. And, be a positive spectator which means being respectful not only of your child but his/her teammates and the coach. Above all, don’t let your child’s sport define you as a parent.
#8 Get Connected with Other Parents
Being a parent of an athlete has its share of challenges, but you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out other parents of student-athletes whether it’s at school on social media or in the community. There are so many other parents going through the same unique experiences as you are who can help you feel supported and validated. Plus, hanging out with other parents on the bleachers can be so much more fun if you feel connected.
Hint: Be sure to branch out and connect with parents of athletes your child’s age, but also be sure to network with parents of athletes in higher grades so you can get a feel for what you and your child can expect in the next couple of years.
#9 Keep Your Eye on Scholarship Opportunities
Research possible scholarships or special training opportunities for your young athlete early on in their career. It’s never too early to start! Properly preparing for recruitment is something to keep in mind beginning freshman year in high school and possibly earlier depending on their sport of choice and their athletic ability.
Special training at school or even within the community can contribute to their athletic resume and can give them an edge over the competition so they stand out in a crowd of applicants. Also, don’t overlook the benefits of networking which can prove beneficial particularly when it comes time for college recruitment.
#10 Give Them The Freedom to Dream Their Dream
Of all the ways to support your aspiring athlete, this is perhaps the most important…
Ultimately, the human you brought into this world looks to you for your approval, encouragement and strength. They need you to believe in them, even if their dream seems a tad far-fetched. Top college athletes and even Olympians all had to start out somewhere. Give your child the freedom to dream BIG!
About Dr. Cristina Dominquez
Dr. Cristina Domínguez attended the Florida School of Professional Psychology where she attained a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She specializes in sport and performance enhancement as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dr. Domínguez currently lives in New York and owns her own online business providing mental and performance coaching internationally. CristinaDominguez.com @Dr.CristinaDominguez