Are Sports a Gift or Are There Strings Attached?

Have you ever fallen for the “bait-and-switch” technique that some shady marketers use to sell their products?

You see an advertised product that you're interested in, and you’re enticed to visit the store. However, once there, you discover that the information was not completely accurate and all of a sudden the “bait” that had your curiosity peaked is “switched” to something completely different. Or in some cases, you are met with pressure to buy something that is a lot more expensive.

Parents—perhaps unknowingly—slip into this “bait-and-switch” mindset with their kids and their sports activities.

It’s an easy thing to do. It goes something like this:

You promise little Johnny that if he plays a sport, it will be SOOOO much fun. →

He’ll make new friends. →

         He’ll learn some new tricks. →

                        And he might even get a nice, shiny trophy to put in his room.

Of course, Johnny is excited about this new “gift of fun.” He jumps in enthusiastically.

Then seasons go by, and you’ve traveled MANY miles to weekend games. You’ve bought more cleats and Gatorade than you could count. Somewhere along the way, you decided it was important to get Johnny some extra coaching—that wasn’t cheap—and you strongly encouraged him to do the summer soccer camps that everyone else was doing.

It seems to have happened overnight, but suddenly his sport appears to be connected to an unspoken pressure for Mom, Dad, and Johnny.

Fun has been replaced with high amounts of performance stress. →

         Time with friends becomes an obsession with competitors. → 

                        Learning something new is now filled with hard expectations. →

Scholarship dollars become the new trophies to attain. 

Johnny’s sports participation no longer feels like a gift but more like a DEBT that he can only repay with MORE successful execution of his skills.

How did this happen? Did Mom and Dad take back all that they promised? Or is this just a natural progression, that is unavoidable?

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what NOT to do, to change the outcome.

Here are 3 areas to evaluate.          

1) Are You Complimenting Results Only?

Complimenting your child probably started long before she was involved in sports. You might have told her that she was a good girl for eating all of her dinner, or that you were proud of her for going to bed without any arguments.

As she enters the world of competition, it might seem natural to compliment her when she finishes first in her heat, or masters her backhand swing.

However, it’s essential to recognize that because our kids desperately want our approval, they might connect compliments only with expectations MET.

Bottom Line: It’s crucial to compliment effort and hard work too.

Parents that show their kids they value the process and not just the results take some of the pressure off, so kids are freer to enjoy all the daily moments.

2) Have You Taken Away Choice? 

Do you keep a record of your sports-parent “investments?”

Are you regularly reminding your athlete of the amount of time your family spends attending her events? Is support always tied to the sacrifices made?

If your athlete is always being told about the costs involved, she might feel she no longer has a CHOICE about how to spend her time. She might just believe that it’s her purpose in the family or her debt to pay.

Additionally, if you played the specific sport she is now involved in, she might feel there are no options to explore other sports.

Bottom Line: Your athlete should always have a choice about participating in sport.

Allow your child’s activities to be guided by their OWN appetite. Longevity in sport comes from an internal drive, not external pressures or expectations.

3) Are You Interrogating Instead of Listening?

Quality conversations are the backbone of healthy relationships. But parents—focused on taking advantage of teaching moments—can easily slip into an interrogation-style conversation with their athlete.

And it comes at the cost of quality listening.

The car ride home, after practice or a game, might feel more like a police precinct, than a safe space with mom or dad.

Do these 4-word questions sound familiar?

  • How did you do?
  • What was the score?
  • Who did you beat?
  • What did you learn?
Bottom Line: Parents need to be mindful of the message they give, by being intentional with the questions they ask.

Be sure that not EVERY question is connected to performance and results. You might lead with, “what was the most fun thing you did today at practice?” Or, “Can you tell me one area you think you are improving in since the last game?”

Finally, be sure that you don’t minimize the social aspect of sport by never inquiring about friends and relationships.

Have You Given and Taken Away?

It’s never too late to change your child’s sports experience. If you recognized your own patterns in any of these things on the “not-to-do list” then start with small steps in a better direction.

  • Be intentional with how you compliment your athlete—always include recognition of efforts put forth, hard work accomplished, and positive attitudes.
  • Let your athlete choose not only the sports they play but the level they want to maintain.
  • Listen to all aspects of your child’s practice and game experiences—stay clear of interrogating them with results-focused questions.

Feel free to reach out to me at david@growingchampionsforlife.com for more great strategies.

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

Comments are closed.