When Connie and her husband registered their 10-year-old son for baseball, they counted the decision as an unqualified win: He'd get exercise and learn some life lessons. But it's not safe to assume that the lessons he'd learn would all be positive ones.
Here are four negative lessons we need to be careful our kids don't learn in competitive youth sports:
Sports schedules trump all other commitments.
When our children play on a team, we expect them to show up to practices and games to learn about commitment. But what happens when there is a conflict with Grandma's 75th birthday celebration?
Tip: The day the coach hands out the schedule, review it as a family and let the coach know which practices or games your child will miss because of other commitments. Help your child understand that how they spend their time reflects their values. And whenever they have competing commitments, relationships trump sports.
It really is all about winning.
We can communicate mixed messages when we tell our kids that winning isn't the most important thing, but our behavior — what we shout from the bleachers or bemoan on the way home — shows that winning really is most important to us after all.
Tip: After the game, resist the urge to critique your child's or the team's performance. Let your child lead the conversation, or simply inquire, "Did you have fun?" or "Where did you see a teammate shine?"
It's acceptable to treat people disrespectfully when you disagree.
Whether you're grumping to your spouse about a coach or yelling at a referee, your child is watching how you treat those with whom you disagree.
Tip: Show your kids what it means to honor one another (Romans 12:10). Often that's as simple as keeping your lips zipped. Other times, it might be appropriate to buy the ref a Gatorade after the game.
Extrinsic rewards are more valuable than intrinsic rewards.
Leagues, coaches and parents can use extrinsic motivators — trophies, food and even money — to reward kids. But these incentives can compromise intrinsic rewards that include a love of the game, a desire to improve and a commitment to the team.
Tip: Besides resisting the temptation to add to the extrinsic rewards, notice aloud: "I saw you practicing free throws last night," or "I liked how you made the assist.”David King and Margot Starbuck are co-authors of Overplayed: A parent's guide to sanity in the world of youth sports.