When you hear the phrase “sports parent,” we often think of the mom or dad in the stands screaming at an official over a call or hollering at a coach to put their kid back in the game.
While there’s some truth behind the stereotype, the vast majority of sports parents are positive, reasonable people who focus on supporting their child – and don’t let themselves become consumed by the final score.
As a sports medicine pediatrician, I work with parents on a daily basis as I treat their kids’ injuries – from sore shoulders and sprained ankles to more serious matters like concussions. When caring for young athletes, managing parental expectations is key to a successful outcome. While some reports would have you think parents are always pushing to get their child medically cleared at any cost, the encounters I have vary widely.
Many are very passionate about their child’s participation in sports. This enthusiasm may be motivated by their own experience playing sports, a desire for their child to get a scholarship, or just the pride of watching their child succeed. It also tends to influence their experience when it comes to interacting with sports medicine professionals.
On the downside, yes, some parents let their enthusiasm cloud their judgment. There are times when we advise rest from an activity that is causing pain, only to be told, “That’s not an option” or “They CAN’T stop playing.” While being able to endure some discomfort is an important life skill, “playing through the pain” can often make things worse. “Aggressive rest” is often the best first step to recovery. It’s challenging to tell an athlete that he or she will need to take a break from playing the sport they love, even for a short time. As a former college basketball player, I understand that mindset, and I don’t take those conversations lightly.
There are plenty of positives to working with sports parents. For one, they want to raise healthy, active kids. Physically active children often end up with fewer chronic medical problems, and perform better academically. When parents encourage sports participation, they can help set their kids on a path to lifelong fitness. They also understand the power and importance of teamwork. Sports teaches us how to commit to a goal, how to be graceful in defeat, and how to work side-by-side with people from different backgrounds. Many parents are there every step of the way, helping their child become the best person they can be.
As a pediatrician, working with parents and caregivers who are fully engaged in the lives and activities of their children is incredibly rewarding. They absorb the instruction and feedback we give and we all have the same goal: to keep their child active in sports. Many of us who practice sports medicine do so because we love working with people who are motivated to get better and stay healthy.
A few tips for sports parents to make their child’s journey the best it can be:
- We’ve all heard this before: Safety first. If children are clearly unable to participate in a given activity – limping due to foot pain, for instance – then it’s not safe to continue at that time. They need to sit out and be evaluated by an athletic trainer, their primary care provider, or a sports physician.
- Stay positive. Especially with an injury or pain, kids’ biggest fear is often that they will not be able to play for a period of time. While that may be the case, parents should not fall into the trap of being devastated that their child will miss time from sports. It reinforces the thought that the child’s worth is tied to their sport.
- Keep our own goals in check. If we’re focused only on the outcome of a contest, or caught up in our personal desire for our kids to succeed, we may be more likely to encourage them to push through something dangerous. Your child’s safety in their sports participation is our primary goal, and it should be yours too.
- Step back from the mindset that the next event is always the most important. If you help guide your children safely through times of pain or injury, they will be better equipped to continue playing their sport(s) and enjoy the long-term benefits of consistent exercise. When parents are invested in their child’s sport participation for reasons beyond the prospects for fun and exercise, their negative response to an injury can lead to an even more challenging recovery.
Our goal as a sports medicine team is to help athletes participate safely, with an emphasis on injury prevention and appropriate return to sports following an injury. With the help of supportive sports parents, we can help your child reach their goals.
Dr. Christian Turner practices at Novant Health Pediatric Sports Medicine - Midtown, Charlotte
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to get world-class care for your sports-related needs. Download our guide on common sports-related injuries.