Parents have asked me many questions over the years regarding the struggles of their sons or daughters in an effort to gain solace about sports and its effect on their child. They ask if it is the coach, umpire, fielders, or something else blocking the path to athletic success. Some conversations are more intense than others, to put it mildly.

We want the best for our children and feel the hurt sometimes more than the child. It is easier for parents to look around at other players and make assumptions about a particular team, coach, and school that often are unfounded. Transferring schools is not at all uncommon in this era of youth and high school sports as an answer to perceived unfair treatment or lack of playing time.

In some cases it works out.

Unfortunately this questioning by parents does not go ignored by the child, particularly those in the pre-teen and middle school years – perhaps the most impressionable years of emotional and psychological development – however it is not the prime time for physical growth in most cases. Therein lies a real dilemma for families to ponder, the balance of athletic and emotional maturity.

Three questions to consider:

1. Is it better to begin a sports career with a sound athletic IQ, understanding fundamentals and game strategy, or find the physically successful route first in an attempt to provide immediate happiness for your child? Sometimes both can be attained but often it just cannot, nature must run it’s course!

2. What is the long term goal that you as a parent have in mind for your child? There is nothing wrong with a end goal of professional or maybe Olympic greatness, just keep in mind question 1 and be patient.

3. Are you and your child able to handle adversity well? Are you able to utilize setbacks to increase desire to succeed? Adversity is a part of life both on and off the field of play, if it comes to you and your child, just keep in mind question 2.

4. Are parents putting “deadlines” on their children? Such as, “He has to make the team as a freshman,” or, “He has to sign that National Letter of Intent by November of his Senior year or he won’t get a good offer.” If you are putting pressure on your child with deadlines just remember that everyone has the chance to write their own success story. See questions 1, 2, 3, and be patient.

Excuses are a learning tool for parents and children. Everyone has pulled one out somewhere in their athletic past, it is just human nature:

“It’s too cold, hard to get loose.”

“He has never gotten a fair shot to make the team.”

“The coach has her favorites.”

“I didn’t have enough time to study because my game got over late and I was too tired to study.”

“I threw three innings a couple of days ago and coach put me in again. That’s why I had a bad outing.”

“It is all political – who you know.”

The earlier in life that the excuses become less frequent, the sooner an athlete’s happiness will start.

High School Sports are a transitional time for our children. We go from the “play for fun” years of 8-14 or 15 to the “perform or you will sit on the bench” mindset of varsity high school athletics. Hopefully our children will be mentally strong enough to handle the change from “teach first, win second” to “win first and you will learn as you win!”

My advice to parents who are in the middle of the “high school pressure cooker” is to keep in mind the long term goals of you and your sons or daughters. If they desire to be an intercollegiate student-athlete do your best to see that they act, think and train like one in high school. At all levels of college sports the demands to perform academically as well as athletically require discipline – a discipline that is difficult to explain or duplicate during the high school years. Believe me, I have tried to help athletes with this and it seems like all of them come from first college semester saying, “I know you prepared me but this is really intense work!”, or something to that effect. It can be overwhelming and it will make all of the worries you had in high school laughable.

If you begin to think and act like a college student the high school stuff in front of you will fall into place.

If your child has no desire to play beyond high school then I enthusiastically urge you all to embrace the time you have watching them, driving them to games, practices, team parties, whatever. Allow them and yourselves to enjoy the culmination of weekend soccer tournaments, Little League games, swim meets, all of the fun times that were just that – fun!

I particularly enjoy working with seniors who know they will not be playing in college maybe more than those that know they will because they invariably start thinking like parents and coaches . Conversations become more cerebral and “big picture” and it is good to see them eager to share what they have learned and enjoyed for the past ten or so years. This is a direct testament to their parents who have taught them well. It is always satisfying to see the next generation of teachers come through.