I Love to Watch You Play

I have three busy boys who love sports. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for uniforms, wrestling shin guards from the dog, driving to practices, and washing uniforms. My oldest is almost fourteen, and he started playing rec soccer when he was three – just the fun stuff where the kids all chase the ball up and down the field in a clump. So I have about ten years’ worth of observations on this crazed life we call organized sports. It doesn’t make me an expert, but it does give me some perspective. This post is for the mamas who are, or who will soon be, driving around minivans full of sports equipment and stinky kids.

I had more than one kindergarten mom come up to me this year and basically apologize for their kids’ lack of coordination and knowledge of the game. “I’m not sure this is going to be Evan’s thing.” “We’re going to help him practice at home.”  I was the coach’s wife (for basketball and soccer season), so I guess I’m the person who absolves all uncoordinated children and children who kick the ball into the other team’s net? The fact that a mom felt like she had to apologize for her precious little kiddo made me sad! It also made me remember what it was like with my oldest.


Did I apologize for him?

I’m thinking I probably did. When it’s your first kid to venture into sports, you have no perspective. You don’t have the big picture yet. Kindergarten is the pinnacle of your parenting at that moment and you have no idea what lays ahead. You can’t. So, if your kid isn’t dribbling down the court and making every shot, does that mean she isn’t good at sports? Should you stop signing him up for teams? No, no, no!

The Big Picture

First, our children’s athletic accomplishments are not a reflection of their value as human beings. It’s crazy that I even have to say that, but this fact gets lost – fast – in the world of teams and games. In fact, the world is going to give them the opposite message: You win, you have more value. I think we have to be on guard against our kids internalizing this message, especially the little ones.

So, if you are sending your five-year-old out onto the field for the first time, remember:

  1. Your kid has been alive for less than 2,000 days. In that time, she has learned to walk, talk, and probably even read a little! And now, you are sending her out to learn new skills, in front of an audience. Be patient. Be supportive. She’s not going to master all the skills for this sport in one season. She may never master them! You’re there to have fun, right?
  2. There have been studies done asking collegiate athletes what helpful things their parents said to them after a game. One of the tops statements?

“I love watching you play.”

That’s it! No re-capping of the game, no pointing out how awesome a teammate did, no tips on what to do better next time. Remember, what you say and what they hear can be two different things. Your “helpful tip” can sound a lot like “you’re not very good” to a kid. We’re trying not to link their worth to their performance on the field.

I want to give proper credit for this info. Bruce E. Brown is the one who has researched some of these simple, positive things to say. His pamphlet about the role of parents in sports is here. There are lots of websites that give an overview of his ideas as well.

3. Comparison is the thief of joy. The world will find a million different ways to measure and compare your child. Don’t waste a minute comparing your kid to the other kids on the team. First, they all grow and mature at different rates. Second, they’re little kids and no one is awarding college scholarships to kindergarteners. Your kid’s performance at a kindergarten soccer game is not indicative of the rest of their sports career. Third, you’re missing the joy of watching your kid play when you’re trying to see if any other kids are picking dandelions.

4.  Your kid is healthy enough and strong enough to play on a team. There are moms and dads who will never be able to cheer from the sidelines for their kid. When you start comparing or getting anxious about how your kiddo will do, check yourself with some gratitude. It works!

There is so much GOOD that comes from participating in sports: regular exercise, learning how to work as a team, how do take direction from coaches, how to be a good sport whether you win or lose, and so much more! So get out your folding chair and the appropriate seasonal apparel. Keep the big picture in mind, and have fun!



Julie hit so many nails right on the head with these thoughts! As the mom of a four year old, I can say we’re both a bit intimidated to get involved in youth sports. Even though I loved sports as a kid, the degree of parental intensity that seems to accompany some mini-mite sporting events these days scares me. There are so many good reasons to get involved, like Julie noted, but our son seems to be more interested in watching from the sidelines – for now. While it’s sometimes tempting to push him to join, I also try to remember that sports are supposed to be about fun, and kids come to the joy of sports at different paces. I try to remember that the fact he hasn’t started soccer by age 4 probably won’t rule him out of a future sports scholarship or a life-long love of motion. Further, he may never love team sports, but be really excited about more individual sports later on. Watching him develop the taste for sports is part of the joy of getting to know him. And I can’t wait to watch him love to play.


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