"Non-Athlete" Parents May Have an Advantage

Not every parent of a high school athlete competed in high school sports when they were a teenager.  In fact, it’s likely that half or more of the parents on your child’s team did not participate in high school athletics.

Sometimes, these parents are worried about their role and how to support their child in his or her athletics. They shouldn't be. Nicole LaVoi, a Senior Lecturer in the area of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and the Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, has found that “non-athlete” parents may actually have an advantage.

Kids who believe their parents view them as competent athletes are more likely to enjoy and stick with sports as they grow, her research shows. What determines how positive a kid's sports experience turns out is "not whether the kid is good or not," LaVoi said in an article posted on huffingtonpost.com, "but whether the kid perceives that the parent thinks they're good."

The article notes that all parents have to “resist the urge to offer a post-game litany of advice and constructive criticism on the drive home. But those of us who duck when a ball is thrown in our direction may find it easier to simply celebrate the best moments of a game and not enumerate the ways a child needs to improve before next week's matchup.”

LaVoi feels it’s more important to give your athlete unconditional support than to offer tips on how to play the sport at a higher level.

"Regardless of the outcome," she said, "you're there to say, `I'm here. I care about you, whether you win or lose. I love the effort you gave. You didn't give up regardless of the score.'"

Brooke de Lench, the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins, 2006), advises non-athlete parents to embrace their situation.

Parents with little sports experience or skill can learn alongside their children, she said in the article on huffingtonpost.com. She encourages parents to ask their kids for help learning the rules and strategies of a sport. Attend games together and sit up high, taking in the way the ball or puck is handled and how the players work as a team.

Non-athletic oriented parents may also find it easier to take the right step and allow their children to determine how large a role sports will play in their lives.

Parents who were successful athletes tend to approach sports "with a plan for their children," Mark Hyman, an author and lecturer on youth sports, said in the article. "They're already looking down the road to that first travel team and maybe the time when their child is going to be specialized in one sport."

In his book, The Most Expensive Game in Town (Beacon Press, 2012), Hyman talked to families that spend thousands of dollars each year on equipment, travel expenses and private coaching lessons. In this scenario, Hyman said in the huffingtonpost.com article, "if your kid says, `I don't want to play soccer anymore' and you've invested $25,000," the result can be conflict.

Parents who didn’t play high school sports or played a minor role on their high school team aren't likely to make a huge financial commitment to their child’s athletic career unless that child pushes for it. They "tend to understand," Hyman said, "that their kids' needs come first ... If they're having a good time, then if there's some prestige attached to having a child that's a super athlete that's great, but that's secondary."

To read the article on huffingtonpost.com in its entirety, click here.