Are you a dad who loves sports? Then you’re probably nurturing fond hopes of seeing your own last name on the back of your son or daughter’s pro sports jersey someday. Of course, not every child can grow up to be a professional athlete, but that doesn’t mean none will — there are about 13,500 professional athletes in the U.S., and collegiate athletics could get your kid a scholarship or even help direct your son or daughter into a sports-related career.
As a parent, you may feel like you’re stuck on the sidelines, powerless to influence whether or not your child finds success in a collegiate or professional sports career. But, in fact, there’s plenty you can do as a father to support your child’s dreams of a professional career in athletics.
Focus on Performance, Not Points
When you’re a parent ferrying your child to and from sports matches, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the small details, like whether or not your child’s team is winning a particular match or having a good season. But if you want your child to continue his or her sports career beyond high school graduation, you need to focus on what’s really important — your child’s performance.
It’s fine and natural to celebrate with your son or daughter, and their team, when they win and console them when they lose. But post-game (and, for that matter, post-practice) debriefings should focus on your child’s performance — what they did well, where they have room for improvement, whether they had fun and how to play better next time. Let your child take the lead in these conversations by asking questions designed to help your son or daughter probe their feelings and reflect on their performance. By allowing your child to assess their own weaknesses, you can avoid making your son or daughter feel attacked or unsupported. Take the opportunity to praise your child’s strengths, instead, and let your son or daughter be their own worst critic.
Make It Fun
Whether they’re skiing in the Olympics, cycling in the Tour de France or sprinting for the end zone at the Rose Bowl, all professional athletes have one thing in common: a true passion for the game. Your son or daughter simply can’t develop the high level of athletic skill needed to compete at an elite level if they don’t truly love the game.
Encourage your child to enjoy training and playing. Spend quality time as a family by tossing the pigskin around in the backyard on a Sunday afternoon. Give your child the option to take a mental and physical break from their main sport by trying new sports and physical activities. Remember, most professional athletes grow up playing multiple sports, and supporting your child in the pursuit of a new sport will help him or her stay in touch with the joy of athletics as well as avoid injuries and stay in shape.
Network With College Recruiters and Coaches
If your son or daughter wants to play college sports, help them network with the college recruiters and coaches who can make it happen. Don’t wait for recruiters to show up at your child’s home games; get your kid on recruiters’ radar by helping them reach out to college coaches at programs they’re interested in. If your child’s school doesn’t offer the sport they want to play at college, put them in a private sports club or consider a high school with a strong athletics program where your child can play the sport he or she wants to play. The best boarding schools for athletes offer a well-rounded athletic education, but they’re also known for consistently putting graduates on collegiate and professional teams.
If an athletic boarding school is out of the question, you can still help your child reap some of the same benefits by enrolling them in a sports camp or clinic. Clinics last a day and give kids a chance to meet and impress collegiate coaches. Camps last a week or two, with similar networking opportunities as well as plenty of fun and comradeship.
Don’t Neglect Grades
Athletics scholarships can be a great way to help pay for college, but colleges primarily want scholars, so grades still matter. Better grades could give your kid the edge over another student competing for the same spot on a collegiate athletics team. If your kid doesn’t make the Division I cut, they could still bring in an academic scholarship from a Division II or III school that doesn’t have much money for sports scholarships but still needs players.
Besides, the main reason to go to college is to get an education, and your child will likely need those credentials when their sports days are over. Make sure to emphasize the importance of performing well in school, and teach your child to make it a priority, even when practice and games are grueling.
Like a lot of dads, you probably wouldn’t mind seeing your little boy or girl grow up to become a professional athlete. While the odds of that happening are long, you can help stack the deck — and even if your student doesn’t land a pro sports career, they will come away with something just as valuable: a lifelong love of the game.