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Encourage Young Athletes to Focus on Things They Can Control and Not on the Final Score

"Have fun out there!” 

We sure hear that statement tossed around plenty in youth sports. While always well-intended and heartfelt, these same words are often overused, undefined, and misunderstood among our blossoming little superstars. 

Let’s take a closer look at the statement and how it is intertwined in our sports narrative. A child joins and participates for all the right reasons. Her friends play, so she plays. She loves being with her friends. Mom and Dad may have a background in sports and consequently realize their benefits. They support their daughter’s decision or gently steer her in that direction. 

As she navigates her way through the sport, her reasons for playing will change. She will grow to love competition, teamwork, improvement, relationships, crowds, or even the teachings and examples of a coach who recognizes his or her position as a resource or even role model. Furthermore, these sports years will be filled with instruction – lots and lots of instruction, in most cases from a variety of sources. 

This leads to a question: Is there a sense of consistency among all these voices? Probably not. One can hope that the message becomes singular, especially among those closest to our player. From a parent’s perspective, balance is paramount and a singular theme of “I love watching you play” can work wonders. Paralleling that should be conversations regarding how to be a leader, a great teammate, a coachable student, and a good sport, while at the same time saving the X’s and O’s for the coaches. 

Now let’s return to the “Have fun our there!” sentiment. Much like players’ expectations when it comes to sports, yours should match your child’s. If yours don’t, embrace your child’s. Finding out what your daughter deems fun is the key, and maybe defining it is better – and much like expectations entering a sport, your definition and hers should match.  

Now if your young player sets qualifiers or conditions on her happiness, it doesn’t work: “I love basketball when my dad coaches, when I start, when we win, when I shoot a lot, when I get my favorite number, when I make varsity.” Under these conditions, the player’s “fun” is tied too much to aspects they can’t control. Can they control their effort, their attitude, their work ethic, their love for a teammate? They sure can – and maybe that’s the fun part.

Scott Berseth has had many experiences as a player, parent, and coach in the Chippewa Valley.

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