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9 Ways to Help Your Child Love the Game

By hench | In Good Info for Parents | on December 13, 2017

By Jim Price

How far can your son or daughter go playing ball? High school team? College scholarship? Further? The answer depends on two factors: DNA and love of the sport. DNA determines physical attributes and how much one gets out of training. The true variable is how much he enjoys the game. If a child loves to play, they want to play all the time. They want to practice. They want to get instruction. Every minute spent involved in that sport is fun. And, that leads to growth, development and the opportunity to maximize genetic strengths.

If you know a young player who seems to have talent above their peers, keep an eye as the years go on. Without a love for the game, that player will inevitably start to fall back towards the pack or even quit the game entirely before reaching his full potential.

According to Tom Farrey, director of the Sports and Society Program at the Aspen Institute and author of Game On; The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, “for the vast majority of (professional) athletes, it was not about chasing the college scholarship or becoming a pro; they were just enjoying the games and falling in love with sports.” In other words, it’s the kids who grow up loving the sport, not the ones being driven to succeed in it, who do actually succeed.


How do you know if your child loves playing? 

“He goes to practices and games.”
“She seems to enjoy it.”
“His friends play.”
“She’s good at it.”

All of those statements are positives. However, none demonstrate a love for the sport. In my 20+ years of being involved in youth sports, I have seen a fair amount of kids who quit playing ball — and their parents never saw it coming.


So, what should you look to really know how your child feels about the game?

1. She often talks about playing and not just after you have started the conversation (in fact, resist the temptation to start the conversation all the time).
2. He asks questions about ballgames he has watched or played in, strategies, reasons why a player did something a certain way.
3. He re-lives the games after they’re over, not beating himself up about mistakes, but excitedly talking about various moments that might not even have involved him. Listen in on the conversations he has with his friends.
4. Once there is downtime or the season ends, she can’t wait for it to start up again.
5. He wants to learn more and improve.

In short, you have to listen carefully for the clues. If you’re always the one pushing him to get dressed for the game, to get ready for practice, to go to his lesson, that should be a red flag. The enthusiasm should come from the player, not the parent. 

How can you cultivate a love for playing ball?

You have to teach your child how to find the joy in the game. I found this list on a blog for USA Football and I believe it captures much of what I have advised parents through the years.

  • ♦ Play with your child just for fun. Don’t turn every game of catch into a coaching session. Just enjoy yourself.
  • ♦ Avoid over-scheduling. Give your children plenty of free time to follow their own interests outside of sports.
  • ♦ Focus on efforts, not outcome. Praise your children for their hard work, not on the number of runs they scored or the plays they made. Focusing on his stats causes them to do the same and likely takes their minds off the fun in the process.
  • ♦ Let your children try different sports. Eventually, they will settle on the ones they really like.
  • ♦ Be sure your children have time to play off the field. Let them just be kids! Research shows that unstructured playtime – when kids decide what to do and make up their own rules with their friends – helps children learn the social skills they need to become adults who know how to cooperate and get along with others.
  • ♦ Give your children ownership. Let youth sports remain youth sports. John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, explains the importance of letting kids have ownership in youth sports: “Millions of kids leave sports and look for a place where their every action and every mistake is not scrutinized by an adult. That is not to say there is not a place for coaching or teaching; but good coaching does not take away autonomy. If you doubt this, then ask yourself ‘Why does the average teenage boy play 17 hours of video games a week?’ A big part of the reason is no one is standing over his shoulder critiquing every move, and demanding that he entertain them.”
  • ♦ Allow your child the freedom to make mistakes. You don’t like your boss hounding you about mistakes, do you? Your child feels the same way. Yes, he should learn from his mistake. No, he does not need to be reminded over and over.
  • ♦ Don’t become a slave to sports. Even when you feel like your child’s busy sports schedule is ruling your life, you can still be intentional about not letting it happen. Be sure you leave room for other things in your family’s life besides sports.
  • ♦ Learn to use the phrase “I love to watch you play.” According to the study done over three decades by Bruce Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching, the one thing most college athletes remember as motivating was hearing their parents say those six words of love and support.

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