One of the biggest reasons for conflict in relationships is unmet expectations. And in youth sports, it is no different. Parents expect things from their kids who play sports— things that the child may not be ready or able to deliver. We should be hoping for the best for our kids. We should express our belief in them. We should voice a positive outlook. However, sometimes all that hoping and expressing belief and voicing optimism morphs into high expectations that are unrealistic. And it is then that frustration arises between parent and athlete. Are any of these unrealistic expectations expressed in your home, either verbally, or in your behavior?
- I want you to always work hard and give your best effort. Of course we say this to our kids. Of course we want it for them. But the reality is that they will not always be able to give 100%. They will be tired or discouraged or may just have a down day. And when this happens, give them some grace. Don’t always expect a stellar effort.
- I expect you to put in the extra work to get better. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If an athlete wants to excel, he or she must go above and beyond the demands of practice, and beyond what other teammates are doing. But this is a conclusion your child must reach on his own, without you expecting it of him or her. Otherwise, it will just develop into pushy parent behavior.
- You’ve got to keep up your grades, your chores, and your sports, without skipping a beat. Life is not getting easier for kids. School is getting harder and sports are getting more competitive. Sure, kids should learn to work hard and keep up with responsibilities, but there are times when you need to cut them a little slack. They are kids, after all. They are still in a huge learning portion of life that will prepare them for adulthood.
- Suck it up when it’s hard and quit complaining. Kids need to be challenged to perform above what they think they can do. But pushing them to work harder does not mean we ignore their legitimate hurts and frustrations. Perhaps you think your child is wimping out and it angers you to see that. Well, my friend, “suck it up” is not going to build his muscles one bit.
- I expect you to get over things quickly. “So you lost the game? Well, there’s always next time!” “It’s okay if you messed up, tomorrow is a new day!” It didn’t take me too long to understand that each of my three kids processed disappointments differently. One got over it quickly, one stewed for the rest of the night, and one carried it for a day or two. Which one of those is your child? Once you’ve figured that out, give him or her the space needed to recover.
- You’re such a great athlete, I expect you to keep playing and even play in college. Putting that expectation upon your child as a definite plan of action and allowing him or her little say in the matter is too much of a demand. What if she wants to pursue music instead? What if he’d rather get a job and start saving money for college? What if your child doesn’t want to go to college at all? We cannot assume a life path for our kids; it takes self control for parents to allow them to figure it out for themselves.
What are the expectations you are placing on your child? Are they causing conflict?