Advice for Sport Parents: How to help your athlete make tough decisions

Recently one of my hockey teammates asked me advice on how to handle a situation with her 14 year old teenage son.  The son is a high level gymnast who has potential for a collegiate scholarship. He must travel out state to attend meets at his level, and often misses out on social events with friends.  One of the biggest meets is occurring next month in his home state, a meet that would give him exposure to college coaches.

The dilemma: he was asked for the first time to attend a Sadie Hawkins dance (where the girl asks the boy). He was elated but it conflicted with the important meet in his own backyard. His absence from the meet, since he is an in-state standout, would raise eyebrows from the coaching community.  His parents feel he should attend the meet but he is so excited to be asked out by a girl for the first time that he really wants to attend the dance.

My advice: Talk with him openly and ask him to identify the pro/cons of attending or not attending the gymnastics meet. Let him come up with both sides, rather than telling him what you (the parents) think. Tell him the decision is his and there is no wrong/right decision, only the one he makes. Tell him that whatever he decides, you will support his decision and love him unconditionally. The skill of making hard decisions, being able to weigh both sides, be comfortable with the decision, and live with the outcome is a life skill. Allowing for and teaching the child-athlete some autonomy in decision making is important for optimal development. If he does indeed attain a college scholarship, the ability to make the “right” decision and deal with conflicts between social engagements, training and competition will inevitably occur, so teaching him decision making skills as an adolescent will serve him well later. I also stressed to the parents that one meet will likely not make or break his scholarship opportunities.

What should he do? What should the parents do? How would you handle this situation?

2 Replies to “Advice for Sport Parents: How to help your athlete make tough decisions”

  1. Hi Nicole,

    Fascinating post, and I think this is a problem that a lot of parents face.

    I tend to be more didactic as a parent. By which I mean, that I will allow my own teenage son (a young athlete) to identify the pros and cons himself and then add my own view of certain potential consequences that he might not have foreseen.

    I don’t make the decision for him, but I want to ensure he’s fully informed. And then I ask him whether he thinks it will matter one way or the other, when he’s say, 20 years old. My assumption is that this gives him a sense of perspective and it seems to work. He generally laughs and says it won’t make any difference and does what he thinks is best for him.

    In your example, I can’t imagine that missing one event is really going to have an impact on whether someone gets a college scholarship, but then I’m in the UK where things are different.

    The priority (or so it seems to me) is to keep them going through their teens which are difficult enough anyway (for both boys and girls) and trusting that the opportunities will arise.


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