STOP DOING THIS TODAY!
Do you do this?
Do you say “congratulations“ to the parent sitting next to you when their child scores that 3 pointer?
Do you say “good job” to the parent of the child who just won gold in her race?
I implore you to stop it. Stop congratulating parents when their children achieve success in a sport / a debate / a contest. It’s NOT the parent who achieved the success. They didn’t just run the race. They likely had nothing to do with them sinking that 3 pointer. It wasn’t them who got the PQT in the swim race.
Why do I feel this is so important? Why do I feel that this action alone is responsible for perpetuating an ongoing problem in youth sports?
Because the message you are sending when you do this (likely unintentionally so) is that that parent is a better parent because their child was the best in that moment. You are bolstering their ego. And not for the right reasons!
You know these parents. The parents who soak up their child’s accomplishments like they are their own. The ones whose self-worth is determined by how well their children do. It’s an epidemic. An epidemic of parents who believe that their child winning means that they are a winner. These parents are the nightmare of all youth sports coaches. They are too invested in the results their children get and are often the reason that child begins to hate the sport and eventually quit.
What about all the kids who come afterwards...are those parents failures? I know you likely don’t think this, but by only acknowledging the parents of the winners, you are sending this message. The parents of the athletes who cross the finish line last, don’t make it over the minimum height for high jump, fault in all 3 of their long jumps or throws are also to be commended. Their kid showed up. And yes, I believe showing up is half the battle. They got their kids to come and compete for other reasons. Those kids knew they weren’t going to win. They were there for other reasons. Maybe they were going for a personal best, maybe they love the thrill and feeling they get from that sport, maybe they love being a part of a team and the laughs they share on the sidelines. By encouraging and recognizing these children at a young age, we would do a better job of keeping them in sports longer.
Your worth as a parent is not tied up in your child’s physical accomplishments. You are not a better or worse parent because of their results at the track meet, on the court or in the pool. You ARE a great parent if your child cheers their teammates on, shows up and supports their friends at the field events, is kind & smiles at those around them, and finds the fun in the long day at the track mostly standing around and waiting. If you have helped your child develop the persistence to keep trying, the work ethic to show up to all their practices, the positivity and coach-ability that helps them improve day after day...then YOU ARE doing an amazing job parenting. You are raising confident, caring, resilient, and persistent kids who will continue to participate in sports for their lifetime because they see the value of it above and beyond the winning or losing.
So stop congratulating each other on the children’s accomplishments. Stop reinforcing the idea that you are a better parent if your child wins races or jumps the highest or furthest.
Instead, take a moment and congratulate the athlete (but NOT for their win!). Congratulate them for their amazing effort, their well run race, their confidence and composure during the event. Point out how you saw them give their friend encouragement and a pat on the back before their race. Tell them you saw how excited they were for their friend who faced their fear and showed up. Praise the effort and their character-NOT the results.
And Parents — the most important phrase you can say when your child walks over to you after their race/game is “Wow, I LOVED watching you race, that was so much fun to watch.”