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My 13-year-old son is on his middle school lacrosse team. He has played recreational lacrosse for the past several years, and I think he is pretty darn good. He is not first string on his school team so gets very little play time in games. In all fairness, the team is rather large since they made no cuts to allow other kids the opportunity to learn the game.

After the first game, which was a big loss, the coaches gave the parents a pep talk. The first thing they said was, “We are not about winning. We are here to help your boys become good men.” As I walked away, I thought to myself, “What! Are they crazy?” After several years of watching my son play lacrosse and spending money on various teams, travel, and equipment, I want to win and I want my son to play more! (Key word here: I.)

Later that evening I complained to my husband about my son’s lack of field time and the coach’s comments. Let me preface the next part by telling you that my husband has more integrity than anyone I know. It often irritates me when I adamantly and passionately believe that I am right about something, and he softly and gently corrects me with a morally sound and often superior statement.

After quietly thinking for a bit, my husband stated that there is more to being on a team than scoring and winning. There is the feeling one gets from being an integral part of a whole. Each person on the team has a role. Team spirit excites children and keeps them involved in school. It is an important part of school pride. He pointed out to me that the majority of professional basketball players sit on the bench most of the season, but still collect a paycheck and love being on the team.

Children need to learn how to be good losers. They also need to learn that if they are not getting the play time they want, then they have to prove themselves in order to earn it. They need to learn to work harder and ask for help if they need it. Parents cannot do this for them.

Many kids will also learn that no matter how hard they work at it, they still might not be good enough to be first string. This is a good life lesson. Everyone needs to realize his or her limitations. In real life we don’t all get a trophy. We cannot all be first string. Being a good teammate means supporting others and cheering them on. In team sports a loss is a team loss and a win is a team win. Lastly, the kids are getting physical activity and developing physical and social skills while out there.

The nature of parental involvement can influence the degree to which participation in sports is a positive experience. Be certain that the team’s goals are child oriented. Many parents hope for college scholarships and push their children hard. A 2001 study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids who sign up for sports quit by age 13. The reason they gave? “It just wasn’t fun anymore.”

Here are a few facts to provide some perspective:

  • There is 70 times more money available for academic scholarships than athletic ones.
  • There is a 1 in 10,000 chance of earning a paycheck in the National Basketball Association.
  • According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of high school athletes get scholarships and most of them are partial.
  • The odds of winning an Olympic gold medal is 1 in a million.

If you’re the parent of a child playing team sports, consider this advice from “How to be a Good Sports Parent” by Jane Weaver:

  • Reward your child if they win or lose.
  • Don’t raise complaints or concerns in the middle of the game.
  • Applaud when either team makes a good play.
  • Praise effort.
  • Respect calls by referees.
  • Talk to your neighbors during the game so you don’t get too caught up in the score.
  • Ask your child afterwards: Was it fun?

Whatever you do, in the car on the ride home, do not review how your child could have done better!

The take-home point here is that is important to realize why our children play sports. What are the goals of playing? Are the kids having fun? Are we as parents encouraging them for the right reasons? Are we giving our children enough autonomy to learn from and enjoy their sport?

Just a note…while I was texting on my cell phone, anticipating another loss, my second-string son scored the first goal of the game left handed! I won’t mention whether they won or lost since it is NOT important.

Darn, my husband is right—again. Apparently, both he and my son are teaching me good lessons. I’m learning to be a better sports parent and promise to focus on the game for fun from now on.

Cami U. Jordan, M.D

Cami U. Jordan, M.D., board-certified pediatrician, co-founded Partners in Pediatric Care with her colleague Dr. Rosemary Ashman in Virginia Beach. She is married to Dr. Louis Jordan and is the mother of two sons. For more information, call 757-491-7337.

Website: www.partnersinpediatriccare.com

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