How Sports Prepared Me For Parenting

As I was writing all of our activities and appointments on our large dry erase calendar this week, I began to wonder if I’d overdone it. I signed my 6 and almost 5 year old up for two soccer leagues this spring, and a T-ball league. So for about a month straight, we’ve got sports activities on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings.

My son and daughter enjoy these outings; my daughter more for the social aspect and my son more for the “rolling his body all over the ground” aspect.

sports and parenting

But they’re still so young. Is putting them in multiple sports at this age the right call?

Athletics have played a huge part in my life thus far. In high school, I was a 4 sport athlete until I decided to quit volleyball, for the sole reason of being able to attend more football games! I love playing them, watching them, debating them, you name it.

Of course, there is a large part of me that hopes my kids will enjoy sports as well. Not so that I can live vicariously through them, not so they can become superstar athletes, and not because I think that’s the only avenue that can give them fulfillment.

Being a part of a team is about so much more than all those things, and about more than the outcome of the season.

It’s the friendships made, the work ethic honed, and the life lessons learned along the way.
When I look back at the years of my life I spent playing sports, I believe I can attribute some of my most positive characteristics to those experiences. And it’s interesting how they’ve translated into many of my adulthood roles.

Here’s the top 5 ways sports prepared me for parenting:

1. Work Ethic

Athletes are no strangers to early wake up times. And even when your sport is not in session, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. There’s conditioning to be done in between seasons, and lots of practice if you want to improve your skills.

Just like in parenting, the real work happens behind the scenes. It’s doing the “little things” day in and day out that eventually give way to the big moments of success. There’s early wake up times, working hard when you would rather be laying on the couch, and missing out on social events at times because of obligations you have to your teammates.

2. Teamwork

Parenting is HARD, but it’s a lot more manageable when you have a team in place to help you out (aka your “village”). My husband is my number one teammate, and things go so much more smoothly when we are working WITH each other. If we end up competing or making “selfish plays”, it hurts the whole team. 

There’s give and take constantly. It involves making sacrifices for the good of the people around you. There’s figuring out the unique personalities of everyone on your team in order to communicate with them in the most effective way. Learning the dynamics of working together as a team extends so much further into life than just sports. Being a team player doesn’t just benefit you; it benefits everyone around you.

3. Respect

Here’s where I get up on my soapbox and proclaim that I think one of the biggest problems facing our youth today is a lack of respect for authority. Our teachers and coaches feel the impact of that every day.

Anyone who’s been in sports has certainly experienced: a ref making a bad call, a coach you perceive as treating you unfairly, an opposing team or parent in the stands behaving rudely or out of line. Your kids will model your behavior. How will you teach them to handle these situations?

Will you scream at the referee or give them a little grace (and maybe walk a mile in their shoes while you’re at it)? Will you teach your son or daughter that the coach is indeed picking on them, or that maybe the coach is hard on them because that coach wants to push them to be better? If your child disrespects their coach, will there be a consequence for them at home?

If there are legitimate grievances with a coach or teammate, how will you teach your child to seek resolution? Their character will be shaped far more than their trophy case during these years. Shape it wisely.

4. Problem Solving & Leadership

There is no shortage of problems that can arise when trying to make a group of people work well together to accomplish a task. There can be hurt feelings, injuries, a lack of focus, rule breaking, and on and on. Participating in group activities taught me how to identify different personality types and respond accordingly.

While one person may respond better to tough love, another will shut down. One person may need some confidence building while another needs to be reminded they are not the only player on the team. 

In sports, leadership is a choice. In parenting, it really isn’t. Kids need boundaries and role models, and they WILL look to us to see how we lead. Sports helped me develop leadership skills that I’m continually grateful for. My hope is that my kids will have that same experience.

5. Sportsmanship

One of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in parenting so far is teaching my kids how to lose gracefully. They’re naturally competitive and the meltdowns that have occurred from something as simple as losing a race up the stairs have been pretty shocking to me.

I’ve concluded that the only way they’re ever going to learn to lose with class is to get the chance to experience it many times. When they lose, I remind them, “You’re not always going to win. But you’ll lose twice if you keep responding poorly. Let it fuel you to improve.” And when they win, “Remember how it felt to lose. That’s how the other person feels right now. Be kind and gracious.” 

I would be lying if I said my young kids had fantastic sportsmanship. I’m hoping much of it comes with age, experience, and maturity. With every handshake, every hard loss, and every joyful win, I can only hope they learn more each time.

This article isn’t saying that athletics are the only way one can learn these lessons and pass them on to their kids. It just happens to be the course my life has taken, and I’m thankful for the role that sports have played. Maybe for your kids, it’s dance, band, agriculture, theater, (the list goes on) or a combination of things.

Whichever way you’re choosing to teach your children these life lessons, I wish you luck. If you’re not sure how to instill these values into your kids, extracurriculars are a great place to start!

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