5 Tips for Parents of Young Athletes {Perception vs. Reality}

If you have children in youth sports, you have undoubtedly run into that parent… the overly competitive, aggressive and sometimes downright abusive parent stomping and shouting on the sidelines.  Thick puffs of steam whistle out their ears and snort from their noses when their kid makes one mistake.

I live in the reality that youth sports are for FUN, for exercise and for building social skills (like learning to be a team player) and increasing self-esteem.  Secondly, if my child is really excelling, my mind goes to school scholarships and maybe a professional career… secondly.


Youth sports should be a positive thing, but they are not always, much to the fault of us parents.  I’ve been reading up on the topic as my oldest digs further into her favorite sport, tennis, and she starts new sports in the winter and spring (basketball, softball).  I want her experience to be a good one.  Recently I picked up Perception vs. Reality in Youth Sports by JA Patterson.  This book has a unique approach to showing parents how distorted perceptions are wafting contagiously around the youth sports community.  The unique approach is this: the book incorporates anecdotes about the youth lives of successful athletes.  This is their reality, not the one fantasized in parents’ heads.  Kids will be motivated and encouraged by their stories and parents will either raise their low expectations — or maybe have a real reality check. Come back down to Earth, oh crazy dad at tennis practice…


Let me run through the topics with you so you can quickly see if you would benefit from reading Perception vs. Reality:

  • Benefits/Downsides of youth sports
  • Choosing the right sport at the right time, when to quit
  • Parenting an athlete, the supportive parent, the over-involved parent, parent/coach interaction, parents coaching their own kids
  • What separates the Best from The Rest: natural talent, attitude, mindset, effort, athleticism
  • Successful sports families
  • They’re only human: mistakes, nerves, injuries and it just isn’t always about winning
  • Females and sports
  • Successful athletes who overcame physical or mental challenges

I believe every parent with, or planning on having, children in youth sports should read this book.  I found it very informative, encouraging and interesting… and I’ve already discovered ways I can improve.  I was a competitive cheerleader in high school and it was a very positive experience for me — it was fun, I made life-long friends and I was in amazing shape.  My parents were incredibly supportive and attended all of my competitions.  I want to be the most perfect (imperfect) parent of my little athletes as possible.  Here are my 5 tips:


5 Tips for Parents of Young Athletes

  1. Be their biggest cheerleader.  Unconditional support should be our goal.  We are not their coaches, we are their cheerleaders.  When they excel, cheer loudly.  When they fail, smile big and encourage them on (just as loudly).
  2. Celebrate small victories.  Even when the child or team loses, still praise and celebrate.  If you have a tradition of going out for ice cream, don’t only go when the team wins.  Find small victories to point out an celebrate after each match/game:  a goal, an improved stance, incredible teamwork, or just a smile at the end of a loss because who doesn’t love a good sport?
  3. Be realistic and never compare.  We are all born with different talents so comparing is never productive and only hurtful (to both you and your children).  Keep your own expectations in check and never be negative, aggressive, abusive or overly competitive.  It isn’t about us — it’s about our kids!
  4. Make yourself available. Your kids need to know you care about their interests, so make sure to get them to practice on time and show up to games/matches.  I know, believe me, scheduling can get very tricky with working parents, other kids in sports and the etc in our lives, but try and make it a priority.  This also means be available to LISTEN.  There can be many emotions that go along with competitive sports, not to mention team dynamics — be there to hear it.
  5. Know when to call it quits.  Hey, they can’t all be good at everything, are you?  And honestly, some people just are not athletic or have zero interest in organized sports.  It is a tough topic though, as we never want to encourage giving up, but we also don’t want to push too hard.   This, unfortunately, has no black and white answer, it is going to be different with each child and each sport.  Just ask questions (the whys?) and really listen.  Maybe there is a way to improve their experience and keep them in the sport, or maybe not.  Be okay with your child’s decisions because THEY ARE their decisions ultimately.  Personally, I’d encourage taking a season off or trying a new sport if my child was adamant about quitting.


Win your own copy of Perception vs. Reality In Youth Sports in this give away!!

Perception vs. Reality

Disclosure: I am part of the PTPA Brand Ambassador Program with Perception vs. Reality in Youth Sports and I received compensation as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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  1. November 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm — Reply

    Good advice. I see so many parents who are too hard on their kiddos.

  2. November 1, 2014 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    I coach my son’s little league baseball team, and I have to say that most parents are great-however I wish everyone would remember NO ONE PAYS me for this job, I do it because I enjoy playing ball with my son and all the kids. It would be great if other parents saw that its supposed to be fun first -at 6 years old-the skills will come-but they need to have fun first

    • November 1, 2014 at 7:02 pm — Reply

      Great point Kathleen!! Thank you for your input as a coach, a perspective I don’t have (yet). Thank you for all you do!

  3. November 2, 2014 at 4:22 am — Reply

    Sports are fun, and you’ve got some great points in this post. I also like the ‘know when to give up,’ option you’ve encouraged. I think it’s often a matter of instinct. My son is in his 3rd yr of soccer and he said he wanted to quit. I decided he could after the season end if he still wanted to, but I highly suspected he would love it by the end of the year (the first two yrs. coaches didn’t teach much, a lot of playing went on…this year the coach was the real deal). I was right and he loved it, flourished in it (as all of the kids did under the coach’s instruction), and wants to sign up again when the season rolls back around. :)

    • November 2, 2014 at 10:53 am — Reply

      That’s awesome!! Them parental instincts are usually right! Good for you.

  4. November 2, 2014 at 9:33 am — Reply

    Great post. Skills come with practice. Parents need to ensure that their children learn the rules of the sport and remember to have fun. Some parents put too much pressure on the child and forget that it is just a game.

  5. November 2, 2014 at 6:31 pm — Reply

    Great article. I think sports are very important for learning team work, but it should always stay fun.

  6. blessedelements
    November 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm — Reply

    Those are important points and I’ve meet those types of parents and coaches too! Kids have a much better time when they learn sportsmanship behavior and how to be a team and have fun.

  7. November 7, 2014 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    My husband is a youth rugby coach. My favorite moments are watching the team from their first game, where nobody knows what’s going and seeing them learn and improve. Seeing the pride they all show towards the end of the season when they start scoring and understanding the game, its hard to to catch the rugby bug!

  8. November 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm — Reply

    Great piece, great points! Wow! We are so fortunate that we have fantastic coaches, whom our children trust and respect – as do we. Giving of their time – and their praise – when necessary. Makes for a FUN season! I think that when the parents, like the kids, respect and APPRECIATE the coach’s contributions of time and talents, its makes for a much better experience for all and the kids ultimately enjoy their season more.

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