Wait a second! Isn't the title for this article incorrect? Surely I meant to say, "When Is Your Child Old Enough to Participate in Youth Sports?" No. I would like you to seriously consider a question that rarely gets asked: How does the age of your child affect you as a parent watching your son or daughter compete?
How would you react if:
- A soccer player on the other team intentionally tripped your child and he lay on the ground, crying?
- Your child's tennis opponent repeatedly called some good shots from your child "out" when you could clearly see that they had landed "in"?
- You overheard a parent sitting in the stands near you make derogatory remarks about your son like "That boy is such a loser, why do his parents even allow him to play baseball? We keep losing games because of him."?
I bet if you were like most parents I know, you would have a strong response in these situations, especially if your child was very young. What parent could stand back and not react after seeing their six-year-old attacked or treated unfairly? But would you have had the same response if your child were sixteen, instead of six?
Allow Your Child To Compete When You Can Handle The Stress
Clearly, the age of your child is important. Most parents can remain calm watching a high-school age athlete play sports, because they know that the athlete is old enough to handle difficult situations themselves. On the other hand, watching a young child play sports brings out all our natural urges to protect and nurture our offspring.
How do parents react when they feel that their young daughter is threatened? They usually react by intervening, by trying to stop the threat, or by bringing someone's attention to the problem. In other words, they might yell out something to the referee from the sidelines, say something directly to the other child, or even walk on the court and stop the contest temporarily. These are all actions I have seen labeled as "out of control", "crazy", "and immature"; in other words, as those of a parent who is too closely caught up in their child's athletic pursuits. But, in fact, all these actions are perfectly normal.
Too often, the problem in youth sports is not crazy, out-of-control parents, but the fact that we put children in very competitive situations at too young an age. I often get asked, "When will my child be old enough to compete?" I like to ask parents to re-cast the question as: "When will you be comfortable with allowing your child to be tackled, tripped, yelled at, cheated or left out?" All these things can and will happen in competitive sports. They are part of the game.
Your child is old enough when you, as a parent, can answer "yes" to that question.