Breaking it Down: 3 Areas to Examine as a Parent of a High Performing Athlete
Parents are often the silent sufferers when it comes to teen athletics. They wear many hats and are often as thinly spread as the athletes themselves. Parents are the support of the athlete, the transportation, the bank, the shoulder to cry on, the negotiator, the motivator, the disciplinarian, the friend, and the enemy; sometimes all in just one day. Of course, any parent can relate to the pride they feel while watching their child attain any measure of success. In today’s world of athletics, the feeling can be even greater as parents dedicate more and more energy to supporting their children. Parents are so proud of their children and want to see them succeed. US Performance Academy sees the struggles that the entire family faces when trying to balance it all.
There never seems to be enough hours in the day. Waking up, rushing your kid off to school, practice, the gym, after school activities, home, eating dinner, helping with homework and school projects, and then suddenly the entire family is exhausted. Fitting it all in can seem overwhelming at times. Often parents ask “Is it normal for kids to have all of this going on?”.
When a student athlete has worked hard and earned their way into a competition, travel is often involved. Parents tend to take it upon themselves to double check with the school about absences, contact administrators and teachers about work, and are forced to take on the role of traveling teacher. With organizing the schedule, coordinating the student’s absence with the school, having unpleasant conversations with teachers about missing tests and assignments, planning the carpool, making sure their child is staying on top of their school work while traveling, and worrying if the student is really learning the material or just completing it. That is all on top of playing all of their day-to-day roles as well. This is often the case even if the student is not traveling. Weekday practices and weekend games take up a majority of the family calendar. There is a large list of tasks to prepare for those days as well.
This centers on the questions: “Is my child trying to do too much? If I am feeling this stressed, how is my child handling being judged in multiple arenas: grades in school and time/score in athletics?” Parents are constantly wrestling with the pressures of the youth sport’s culture. Are students continually training just because everyone else is doing it? Or because it is what they want to do? Is there a balance? And if so, how do I find it? Parents say it’s just what all the other parents are doing, so we assume it is what we should do.Where is the balance between added responsibilities of school, sport, and allowing your child to have some downtime?
A Few Thoughts
A disclaimer: Please note that this section isn’t titled “Solutions” or “The Answer”. Every family and every student is different. The following are a few approaches that have worked for families, school, and most importantly students. If you’ve already tried them, rethink the timing and approach you took. Has your child matured since then? Are they training more than in previous years? Are the stakes higher in the academic or athletic arena that have led to changes in time commitments?
Time is precious for teens. The little time they do have if they are in a traditional school is spent with their friends, studying, or just decompressing. So, make a plan. Find a time when your child is usually in a good place (not after school or in the car on the way home from practice). Maybe its his/her favorite lunch spot, or some other activity that you normally do, but this time outline the idea that you want to work with him/her to organize the training/academic commitments. Engage them to bring some ideas to the table, and then be ready to agree to implement those ideas. Always make sure you are listening both passively and actively. This is also a very special time for parents because they get to witness the fun, the new interests, and the revelations their child will have. Remember, the key here is to use your ears more than your mouth. Let them talk about what they think they need and then facilitate creating that time in their day.
Start small here. There isn’t time to repaint the workspace and install built in shelving. What tools do you and your teen use to get organized? Lists created every day? An app on the phone? Post it notes on the mirrors? The key isn’t the tool, you can refine that later as you discover new ways to become better organized. Start with what you are familiar with, but stick to a routine. When do you sit down and lay out your week or day? I strongly encourage you to pick a time each Sunday when all sit down and lay out the next week. I recommend before dinner during a snack or some other time that works for you. Sunday brunch? Either way, all members of the family should come to the “table” with their schedule. And don’t ignore the younger siblings. Driving to swimming lessons can involve more time than driving to a club soccer practice. Plus, they will love being included.
After you have the week down, start drilling down into daily routines. AM practices? How does it impact school? Can your child really handle working in the lobby of the athletic center waiting for practice? How could we better use our time in the car? How do I tackle the piles of worksheets, 20 pounds of textbooks, and other “stuff” that is apparently all trying to escape from my son/daughter’s backpack at once? Start small. Get the routine down and then start to look at every portion of the day and how it might be utilized differently or more efficiently. Let the problems around backpacks and textbooks present themselves before you say that to your child. They need to buy into the need for change versus just having you tell them it’s a mess. A disclaimer: This advice does not hold water if your child has living “things” in his backpack or you suspect it.
This always seems to come up when the kids get to bed or are working in their rooms and folks sit down to reflect on a day filled with everything, including a little bit of organized chaos. Always remember to reflect on the balance in your days and weeks. And then listen. For signs or comments that might mean your child just isn’t keeping it all together. It’s challenging waking up for practice in the morning, dealing with school, and then more practice after school before heading home to deal with dinner, work, and then rest. The signs will be different for every child, and as their parent you know best. Remember that they need time to be just be a kid and have down time to hang with friends, go to a movie, or have a crush on that girl or boy down the street. It doesn’t help when you are constantly barraged by missing assignments or make up tests from travel events. Don’t be afraid to suggest pumping the brakes a bit, but expect some push back. The best place to start that sort of conversation is to go get them out of school for lunch. Explain it’s just down time and then relate a story of running around everywhere to see if you can get them talking. Then listen. You might not get anything immediately, but try again when they get home. Just engaging in the process lets your child know you are aware, available, and can support change. Be ready with some ideas of how to ease off on the schedule a bit, and pick some easy things to do at first. Then you need to agree to another lunch to evaluate the changes and make any adjustments. Again, listening and engaging your child in the process will allow them to buy in more completely earlier in the process. And always keep in mind there is a lot to be gained by striking a great balance in your child’s life.