As a former professional athlete, many parents often ask me what they can do to help their children achieve in sports. My answer usually comes as a surprise. I tell them the most important thing for their children right now is to just enjoy the game.
One of the most disheartening things that I see in young athletes and their parents is when they stress over making it to the next level and not enjoying what’s in the moment.
We live in a world obsessed with private lessons, specialization, travel teams, showcases and sport-specific training. All of these elements play a role in the development of an athlete, but I constantly remind people that it is about where you finish and not what travel team your 8-year old is playing on. I can't tell you how many times "B" or "C" team players grow, develop, and surpass their "A" team counterparts as they mature and move further in grade school, high school and college athletics.
We are also starting to see two things about young athletes who specialize in one sport early on. They are more likely to be injured due to constant pounding on their joints and they are more likely to "burnout" or get tired of playing one sport.
For this reason I urge parents with a young athlete to wait until late high school to specialize in a sport. For now, focus on the intangibles like developing a work ethic, being a good teammate and staying open to coaching. Encourage your children to control what they can and let the chips fall where they may. I truly believe athletes that work as hard as they can and focus on enjoying the moment end up having a more fulfilling athletic experience.
Let’s remember, sports is just a game. So treat it that way.