Mental Toughness in Sports Parenting: Why it’s Important to Have Fun!!!

Mental Toughness in Sports Parenting.  Why IS it important to have fun?

 Are you … as a parent … having fun with youth sports?  How about your children?  Are THEY having fun?

Are you connecting to your children through your sport or are you in constant turmoil; conflicted over goals; conflicted over  “what those goals are”; conflicted over “how” and “when” to pursue them.  Rather than enjoying your childrens’ participation in sports has it become a full time job not to mention a source of major aggravation, conflicts, disruption, and fights?

Are you and your whole family “in need of therapy” over tryouts and tournament schedules and coaches and other parents … and … and …

I feel your pain.  Been there.  Done that.

Are you still coaching and debating (and arguing; even fighting) about the game and performances and practice and game schedules over dinner (and parts of all day every day).  Have you forgotten the single most important piece of dialogue you need to exchange with your child at the game (actually AFTER the game).  It is so important in fact that we’re going to call it …


“I love watching you play.  Let’s go for ice cream.”

Bernard L. DeKoven wrote in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY that “Playfulness is, in part, an openness to being a fool, which is a combination of NOT WORRYING ABOUT COMPETENCE; NOT BEING SELF-IMPORTANT not worrying about competence, NOT BEING SELF-IMPORTANT. If you look for playfulness in the young, you will find it. If you join them, you will find it in yourself.

Why is it important to have fun? Well how about …  that’s what your CHILDREN want and after all, it IS supposed to be ALL about THEM, isn’t it?

A recent Michigan State University study asked boys and girls aged 10 to 12 why they played sports.  Here are the top five reasons they gave: 

  1. To have fun.
  2. To do something I’m good at.
  3. To improve my skills.
  4. To stay in shape
  5. To get exercise.

 Here’s a real shocker:  “winning” didn’t even make it into the top ten reasons … when they interviewed the KIDS!!!

That’s right.  You DID read that correctly.  Again: “Winning” didn’t make it into the top ten reasons why boys and girls play sports.


Mike Boyle is probably the leading strength and conditioning trainer in the United States.  I have taken several courses from Mr. Boyle.  Recently I took a certification tutorial from Mr. Boyle on youth fitness.  What he said in the initial presentation is amazingly insightful for all of us as sports parents.  He stated that “the purpose of sport” is to …

Teach life lessons in a forgiving environment

Learn that hard work pays off

Learn to become a better functioning member of society

Learn to arrive early, stay late, and provide more than what’s asked of you.

Mr. Boyle commented that these lessons are what he learned personally and what shaped his success; taking him from an average athlete to a successful coach.

You will note that two items on the list; (2. To do something I’m good at … (3.  To improve my skills are  goals which are very easily translated into incredible “life lessons” and “skills”.  (Remember these are the CHILDREN’s goals.  This is the kids talking.) THESE are the issues that need to be prioritized.  These are the issues and the games that we, as parents and coaches need to be “winning”; not tournament games that nobody ultimately will care about.

Ultimately even for the truly elite player winning the games and ultimately becoming a top athlete are a BY PRODUCT of achieving these goals. (More about this in later posts).

Developing THESE goals;  these “reasons for playing” (again; stated by the children themselves) translate into “the joy of intelligent patient and persistent hard work”; developing in our children not only “work ethic” but the sheer JOY of PRACTICING the “work ethic” as it relates to ACCOMPLISHMENT and POSITIVE SELF IMAGE.

Mr. Boyle went on to quote R.E. Smith who said in 1984 that “Most of the problems that exist in youth sports result from the inappropriate application of the win-oriented model of professional or elite sport to the child’s sport setting.”

All of us want to be GREAT parents: GREAT!!!  GREAT!!!  GREAT!!!  Parenting is the most sacred trust placed upon us as adults.

Sports have touched virtually all of us and as we pass into adulthood and become parents it is natural that we want to “give” all those wonderful things back to our kids.

To this day many of my best memories revolve around baseball but you know what?  The best ones have nothing at all to do with playing in games; let alone who won or lost.  Nothing.  They are about my dad playing catch with us in the backyard; about playing games from dawn to dusk with my brothers and other neighborhood kids.  (I’m sure all of us saw THE SANDLOT, right?)  It was about going to minor league games with my family.

Here’s what I got out of all those experiences; (a – love and respect of family (b – the roles of parents; for me as a man of course that meant  “fatherhood” (c – the sights and sounds (and even smells) of baseball (d – love of a game that is  incredibly difficult to master (You really never do “master” it; you just kind of grab and try to hold on to those wonderful but hopelessly rare moments of succes.  The little white ball with the red stitching gets all of us in the end … every time) … but a game rich with life lessons simply BECAUSE …  it is so hard!!!

So … turn off the TV; discard the discussions on analytics launch angle , put on a smile and go out and have some fun with your kids.

You’re not with the Yankees when you’re on that field with them. You’re with your kids!!!

Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help; especially with an issue as sacred and private as parenting.

All of us could improve something with our sports parenting skills.  Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask.  Contact me and I can explain my sports parenting program and you can learn how to help your athlete.


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