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October 05, 2022

A new season of youth athletics has arrived. If you’re a parent of a child engaged in team sports, be aware of the ways that your actions as you stand at the edge of the field (as well as in the aftermath of the game) have the power to shape positive traits of character and self-worth for your growing son or daughter — traits that will influence who they are for the rest of their lives.  

Imagine what goes through the minds of our kids knowing we’re on the sidelines during practice or an actual game. Why do they think we’re there? We don’t pull up a chair and watch them play videogames for an hour or a round of Monopoly with their friends. What do they tell themselves about our presence at the edge of the soccer field? They’re smart enough to know that we’re there to see them perform — to see how well they move the ball down the field, or aim a proper kick toward a teammate, or most of all, score a goal. They know it’s their athletic ability that’s being judged and evaluated despite words like “I just want you to have fun.” They know that their performance becomes a source of pride for us — or disappointment.  

And if any of our kids aren’t certain why we’re there, our shouts of frustration or delight, our expressions of dismay or pride make it quite clear that we’re judging and evaluating what we see.  

Recognize that how you behave from the sidelines transmits what you value. If you’re results-oriented, focused only on success, your child will learn that it’s winning that matters most. Not sportsmanship, not fun, not perseverance, not kindness toward teammates as well as the opposing players. If winning is all that matters, our kids may not learn to accept defeat graciously. When they don’t deliver on the athletic field what they know we’re hoping to see, it’s easy for them to come away discouraged and disheartened — with the sport and most concerningly with themselves. It’s no wonder that high percentages of youth drop out of sports every year (see When Sports Aren’t Fun). 

Our challenge is to be aware of what we shout from the sidelines and what we say at game’s end. The goal is to shape fine character at these moments and promote a sense of self-worth. It’s in our power to salute qualities that build our children up. That doesn’t require great athleticism or membership on a winning team.