This is a question that most parents will ponder at many times during their child's athletic career. Indeed, the answer to this question changes over the development and age of the athlete. In order to give some perspective on the answer to what a parent's role is in sports parenting, a matrix between age and ability needs to be constructed.
To begin with what is the age of the athlete? Many of the most aggressive sports parenting, believe it or not, begins in the pee wee or beginner leagues, but certainly can continue through high school. This is when a parent's anxiety is high in many areas of the child's development. As an overall requirement of being a good sports parent, begin with encouragement and support. No child wants to see an anxious, competitive parent, before, during or after any game. Good sports parents understand quickly that children develop at different rates and that it can even be a good thing. They also understand that positive reinforcement can propel an average athlete to become an overachiever and a naturally gifted athlete to truly develop a passion for sports. This is minding the mental aspect of achievement and where true success develops.
Encouragement and Support also allign perfectly with the physical developement of the athlete and therefore skill development. Continuous encouragement and support via recognizing where the athlete needs help is key. Facilitating actual skill development provides for a "real personal game plan" that helps with the individual athlete's sports development. This is also known as postive Realistic thinking. Positive thinking embodies the fact that sport takes skill, commitment, postive attitude, determination and the like. Just showing up is going to be a lesson in failure. Encouraging development of skills and prowess is the right kind of support that goes beyond, "honey you are so wonderful". That is not encouragement and support. That type of behavior is simply put developing mediocrity. It is therefore as bad as being too hard on the child with negative criticism. Neither produce the results necessary for real success.
Remember that children show up with different levels of instruction, ability and determination. A good sports parent understands that development tailored to the athlete's individual needs creates forward progress. Think about expecting your child to excel at math or piano without the proper instruction or dedicated practice. Many times parent's mistake natural ability as a conduit to success, instead of learning the basics and putting forth the work that leads to mastery. A monkey can shoot a basketball if taught correctly. However, many parents think that this is a natural skill and not one that needs to be developed by shooting 500 shots per day. This, however, is exactly what the team leader is doing outside of practice. It is the realistic work and skill building that the top high school athlete does to perform at the expected level. 500 shots a day generally gets the athlete off the bench and into the game. How exciting to know that the athlete can be supported and encouraged to improve performance with these types of strategies. Practice makes perfect is simply the truth.
So how do you get them to shoot those shots? Remember no one including your child looks forward to hard work as a way to alleviate criticism or pressure. A parent can cultivate a child's work ethic by positive encouraging reinforcement. Would you not rather practice and perform when your efforts are evaluated for what steps forward you have made and in considering where someone thinks you can improve. A "you can do it", I believe in you, i just enjoy watching you, you amaze me, gets more progress than, "wow, how'd you mess that up" , "you really don't know what you are doing out there", "your friend Joey is fantastic" and the like. It's really common sense. And, that kind of support paired with proper instruction, not back yard technique, real effective skill instruction can produce a quality athlete.
I know by the mere fact that a parent is on the side line, how much they love and care about their athlete. Maximize your time and that of your child's by providing the right king of support and encouragement. This is not some squishy, warm fuzzy feelings that you are imparting. This is concrete positive encouragement with realistic training and practice. To be supportive and to be encouraging takes high level brain power and critical thinking. Don't be lazy and criticize. Do the hard work mentally and you will realize the results of your child's progress.
The more you look at your athlete with wonder and appreciation, the more they are going to "raise their game". Not surprisingly you will not only see results in your child's development but you will strengthen your bond with your child. Sports will then become a great experience shared by the whole family. This is a great opportunity for growth and life lessons for you and your child.
Think first and give it a try.