Do Parents Block Sports from Building Character?

Do you ever sit on the sidelines at your kids’ athletic events and secretly hope, pray even, that they really will build character?

Or… have you ever prayed that they would be shielded by those who are demonstrating exactly what you do NOT want your kids to learn?

I believe in the power of sports to build character and leadership qualities in kids. I hope my children are involved in athletic programs where they, too, can grow character.

But here are four ways that we might be interfering with the biggest benefit of sports involvement:Sometimes we are our own worst enemies in helping our kids to grow character through sports!

Public Verbal Attacks

At a youth baseball game, I remember distinctly watching two parents duke it out on the pitcher’s mound regarding whose son was “right”. I don’t even remember what the argument was about, but I do remember hearing f-bombs and other foul language ring loud enough to fall on little ears.

What does this teach our kids? That the way to take up a disagreement is to yell profanities at and threaten others?

Does it feel good to “protect” our kid? Sure. Is this constructive? No. Does it demonstrate character? Absolutely not.

Has anyone noticed what seems like an epidemic of bullying going on in our schools? Because here’s the thing: If parents think it is okay to bully each other, why are we surprised when our kids become bullies or are bullied themselves?

Can we instead show our children what it looks like to solve conflict in a way that is constructive, peaceful and which honors our differences of opinion?

Communicating for our Kids

This is a hard one. I wonder sometimes how I will handle it when my little girl’s feelings are hurt because of a decision the coach makes.

I’ve seen it a dozen times. Parents sending emails and making phone calls to coaches in an attempt to win playing time for their kids or get an explanation as to why their kid is not getting what they want. I am sure I will be tempted to do the same.

But let’s remember that communication will go a long way for our kids as they grow into adulthood. Sports give our kids the perfect arena through which they can practice their communication skills.

Instead of speaking for our kids, let’s teach them to talk directly to their coach. They can ask “Hey coach, what can I do to improve?” or “What skills do I need to work on to earn more playing time?”

Kids talking directly their coaches in a way that honors their authority will not only help them to communicate well, but also to develop humility, and the ability to show respect and earn the respect of others.

Giving Permission to Quit

Somehow, we have developed an intolerance for seeing our kids struggle when the going gets tough.

Being an athlete is HARD WORK. So often we want to soothe our kids pain so that when the sport they chose suddenly seems too hard, we let them quit despite the consequences on their team or character.

When our job is not quite what we want, is it wise to quit without a different plan? Will we want our kids to quit when the going gets tough, or stick with it until they find a new opportunity? Do we want others to count on our kids, or be known as the one who never follows through?

Commitment is such an important aspect of developing character. Can we set our kids up for success by teaching them to commit even when the going gets tough? At least until the season is over?

Sympathizing with Unfairness

There is so much unfairness in sport and life.

Our kids work harder than we have ever seen, but still sit on the bench far more than the kid who barely makes it to practice. The coach seems to play favorites with his or her own child, or the all-star on the team.

Our child feels ignored.

Whatever it is, we want our kids to feel validated so we sympathize by complaining with them about their coach or teammates. Our kids feel justified in their perceptions of unfairness. And the next thing we know, they are rolling their eyes and complaining with their friends about the coach or ref or other teammates. Oye!

We may have formed an alliance with our kids, but we have also taught them to build a wedge between themselves and whoever it is they are blaming for the unfairness. We have taught them to complain instead of take action.

Perhaps instead, we can use this teachable moment to help our kids learn that life is unfair. To work hard anyway. Perhaps, even, to try a different strategy (such as talking to the coach) to deal with the unfairness rather than making excuses.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies in helping our kids to grow character through sports!

In life, our kids will have to communicate with peers and authority-figures. Just about everything they do will require commitment. And complaining will get them nowhere.

What else can we do as parents to ensure that our kids are building GREAT character as they participate in sports?



  1. Let’s not forget the value of extra practice and hard work. It may seem obvious to some, but does not seem to be for everyone. As my husband says, “First to practice, last to leave.”
    Of course, it’s also an opportunity to teach priorities. When conflicts between sports occur, or birthday parties come up, or that big project is due in school next week, choices need to be made in the best interest of future success and good health (i.e., not sacrificing or sleep meals).

    • Yes! Great success requires hard work, and someone with good character also has an excellent work ethic.

      Sports are also a great arena through which we learn to make tough choices based on our priorities.

      Thanks for your wisdom, Julie!

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