Motivation much is too much?

02.22.21 09:47 PM Comment(s) By Adrienne Towsen

There can be a fine line between motivating our kids and pushing them when it comes to sports or any activity. I think it's incredibly important to support our kids and encourage their interests. If it's a sport, then I think we need to find the balance between fun and burnout.  Every child who steps on a field, court, balance beam or diving board is not headed for the Olympics. The way some parents act you would think the only reason they have their kids in sports is because they are expecting a gold medal some day. Or if not a medal, perhaps a college scholarship or professional contract. How about just encouraging your child to have fun and enjoy all the benefits sports can offer. Sports can be a challenge, but also a great way to make friends, be a part of a team, move and stay fit, and learn about commitment and dedication. There is nothing wrong with a competitive spirit and wanting your child to succeed, but it's also great to support teamwork and perseverance even when your child is not a super star athlete. If he or she is enjoying the sport, that is truly what matters most. If  your child shows potential to excel, then it's very natural to want him or her to get to a very high level. When you see talent and determination, I think it should be supported as much as possible. However, as an orthopedic surgeon,  when I see 8 and 10 year olds in my office with overuse injuries because they are playing on 3 baseball teams year round, it can be a sign that those parents need to take a step back and consider what is really best for their child.

How can we know if our kids are destined to be a collegiate or professional level athlete? I think talent can be seen at a young age and should be supported, but if there is no element of fun, most likely there will be burnout before full potential is achieved. When you hear professional athletes discuss their journeys, there is often mention of supportive parents who sacrificed things when necessary to make sure they could follow their dream. They may also speak of times when they didn't want to practice, but their parents insisted. At the time, they may have been unhappy, but in the long run they realized it was necessary. There can be motivation and encouragement but there also needs to be understanding. Parents can be instrumental in their kids' success, but if they aren't careful, they can be detrimental to it as well.  There is no substitute for hard work, and both parents and coaches can instill this in young athletes to some degree, but it also has to come from within. Those who achieve great success will always discuss the hours of practice, the passion and the appreciation for those who supported them along the way. 

My younger daughter is a competitive rider. She started taking lessons at a very young age and then stopped for many years. She knew when she got older that she wanted to get back to it. She ultimately became part of a wonderful horse show team with an amazing trainer, and she did her first show at age 14. She rode in a group lesson with other girls who had more experience than she did which was a little intimidating at first. Early on she questioned her ability, but after a short time she realized she was improving and ultimately she "caught up" to the other girls, became friends with them and was very successful at showing. I did my best to encourage and support her and be the best "horse show mom" I could be. This could mean dragging her out of bed at 4:30am on a show morning because when you ride the light gray horse, bathing  her the night before and expecting her to still be clean the next morning is not an option! She didn't love me in that moment, but we got through it many times over and ultimately she was always happy (and nervous) when we arrived at the show grounds with her team and her gorgeous, clean horse! There can be ups and downs at shows like with any sport. There can be fence refusals. falls or rounds you don't place in. But for every down for my daughter, there were 10 times as many ups, and her trainer was always the best at looking for personal victories for her riders even if the ribbons weren't plentiful. 

That was a great lesson for riders and parents alike. That is definitely the philosophy which breeds champions, but more importantly, happy champions. Sure it's nice to win the blue ribbons, and my daughter won her fair share, but it is also nice to improve your skills, have fun and be excited to get back to your next lesson and strive for better. She could do that because she had fun. So I think motivating our kids in sports involves helping them with the discipline needed to be committed, but also making sure there are still smiles and fun. No doubt there will be some tears and disappointment mixed in along the way, and perhaps that's when the motivation matters the most!  Even if you think your daughter is the next Serena Williams, you need to support her and encourage her just as much when she loses the match as when she wins.  And in the event that she then says she wants ski instead, support that too and maybe she will turn into the next Lindsey Vonn. Better still she will be your daughter who participates in whatever sport or other activity makes her happy with a support system cheering her on!👏🏻

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