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Supporting kids in sports


By Heather Bergeson, MD, CAQ

Families everywhere are gearing up for another season of sports. As children lace up their shoes and head to their games and practices, parents are getting ready to cheer on and support their youth athletes.

I work in primary care sports medicine and pediatrics at TRIA. I spend lots of time talking with young athletes and parents. I see many parents who want their kids to not only succeed in sports, but also have fun and enjoy the activity. But sometimes even well-intentioned advice and support from parents can be too intense for kids and can cause problems or decrease the child’s enjoyment.

As parents, we don’t want to cause problems with over-intense advice or unrealistic expectations of our kids. We also don’t want to be uninterested or uninvolved. So how do we support our kids in sports in a healthy way?

Unhealthy support

It can be helpful to recognize behaviors to avoid when supporting our children in sports. For example, our words hold a lot of power. Avoid backseat conversation on the way home from the game. This can be confusing and unhelpful for young athletes. Let the coaches worry about the X’s and O’s and the scoreboard.

We should also avoid too much focus on weaknesses. Every athlete has unique strengths, so it is important to be realistic.

Burnout can be a problem for kids who specialize in one sport too early or feel too much pressure. Unfortunately, about 70 percent of kids quit organized sports by age 13. Avoid intense pressure and don’t ignore signs of burnout. Signs of burnout could include lack of motivation, decreased performance or persistent pain and injury.  

Healthy support

There are many ways we can champion our children as they participate in group activities and sports. To start, we should encourage kids to sample many different sports and play the sport of the season. Keep the focus on fun, fitness and friends.

Young athletes need to bring positivity to each practice and game. As parents, we can model this behavior and honor the game by showing respect for coaches, teammates, officials and the opposing team.

Losing or failing in sports can be a good opportunity to support our children. It’s only a failure if you fail to learn from it. There are more life lessons in the losses. Mistakes should be encouraged. They are essential to eventually mastering a skill.

Youth sports can be an extremely fun way for kids to exercise, establish friendships and learn many life lessons. Encouragement and support can greatly enhance a kid’s experience in sports. This season, let’s be parents who help and support our kids in the healthiest way possible!

About Heather Bergeson
Heather Bergeson is a sports medicine physician specializing in primary care sports medicine and pediatrics. She is a Team Physician for Gopher Athletics and Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedics at the University of MN. Her passion is caring for musculoskeletal issues in patients of all ages, but she has a special interest in promoting fitness and health for young athletes. Heather is also on the Minnesota chapter executive board of the Positive Coaching Alliance and advisory board of Her Next Play.

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