Youth Sports and the “Goldilocks” dilemma

Once upon a time, in the whimsical world of youth sports, parents found themselves facing a Goldilocks-like conundrum. Not porridge-related this time, but rather a struggle to strike the perfect balance in their involvement with their young athletes.

Much like Goldilocks, who had to find the bed that was just right, sport parents need to tread carefully to avoid extremes that might spoil the sports experience for their athletes. Kids are keen observers and notorious copycats, so the parental influence on a sport’s “attitude” is actually pretty important.

When my son wanted to try soccer, I took him to games and practices. Doing it was usually an imposition on an already stressful day of coaching and running a business. That Fall was pretty cold and of course, every time there was a game, it rained.  Never one to hold back my dissatisfaction (with anything), I am sure I let slip several not-so-subtle clues that I hated the soccer-thing. Sure enough, one night my son shared with us that he hated soccer and asked if he could quit. Perplexed, I told him he had to finish the season because we agreed to that commitment, but if he hated it at the end, he would never have to play again.  Little did I know then that my negative attitude probably had a lot to do with his dissatisfaction with team sports.  I never knew my smart mouth was so damaging. I had a lot to learn.

Not good mom

As a coach I have seen parents that are too hard on their child, pressuring them to win at all costs. Result? The child wants to throw in the towel, pack up the grips, and call it quits. On the flip side (gymnastics pun), a parent who’s too laid-back and disengaged sends a message that commitment and involvement are about as worthwhile as a crooked balance beam. The child loses interest, and sports become just another forgotten thing they tried….once.

So here is the concept of Goldilocks sports parenting—being one who understands the value of the experience, supports the team, and doesn’t go overboard with expectations. This parent fosters support, teaches responsibility, and creates an environment where their child can thrive.

Positive involvement means being the cheerleader-in-chief, attending games, reinforcing the coach, and letting the child make their decisions about which sport to embrace. It also involves financial and other support to enable the child’s participation. On the other hand, negative involvement could range from coaching your child over the real coach, pushing too hard for wins or performances, or just bad mouthing something, like soccer, that their kid is trying out to see if they like. Research by NAYS (National Alliance for Youth Sports), has illuminated the link between parental involvement and a child’s experience and tell us that this influence is a big factor on whether the child enjoys their sport or doesn’t.


But, as with any fairy tale, there’s a twist. It’s not just about what parents do; it’s about how the child perceives the parent’s interaction, respect, and value for the sport. So Goldilocks isn’t a person as much as a perception, and perceiving a controlled moderate level of involvement is a win.

Finding this sweet spot is crucial because, let’s face it, without parental support, the sports journey, regardless of the sport, becomes a Herculean task for kids. Financial and emotional backing, coupled with respect for the coaches and the “game” are the critical factors of the youth sports saga. Too much involvement, and the pressure might burst the bubble; too little, and the balloon of interest deflates.

In the end, it’s about fostering an environment where kids feel supported, valued, and excited about playing. So, parents, channel your inner Goldilocks, find that just-right involvement level, and let the youth sports adventure unfold with joy, laughter, and maybe even a little fairy tale magic. Everyone will be glad you did.

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