In youth sports, there seem to be two extremes when it comes to parenting and coaching: the coddlers and the "old-school" thinkers.
Old-school thinkers are more hard-nosed, less compassionate, and tend to think that showing empathy will not make a kid better or stronger.
Coddlers are perceived as those who pamper kids, are more concerned about feelings, and do everything they can to keep kids from experiencing hardship.
Let's put aside the perceptions and go to the dictionary for the true definition of coddling: to treat tenderly; nurse or tend indulgently; pamper.
With that definition in mind, perhaps there is a time and a place for coddling in youth sports: When a child is physically hurt, he should be nursed or treated tenderly; when he is emotionally injured, we cannot always assume that the instruction to "toughen up" will take care of the issue.
Unfortunately, coddling young athletes has moved way past those exceptions and has become a way of life for many sports parents. No doubt their concerns come out of a deep love for their kids, but the tendency to indulge and pamper young athletes is not helping them become better; it is, in fact, hindering their progress.
Are you guilty of coddling your young athlete? It might be time for a sports parent self-assessment. Here are 10 signs you should not ignore.
You may be coddling your child if:
1. You fight his battles for him by confronting the coach. If your child is unhappy with his playing time or doesn't like the position he is playing, let him take up the fight.
2. You switch teams or schools more than once because your child doesn't like a coach or isn't happy with the the playing time or position she gets. If your child is in an unhealthy situation, then by all means find a better environment, but switching every time your child is unhappy with her situation is teaching her to constantly run away from problems instead of facing them.
3. You bail him out every time he forgets something: his shoes for practice, his uniform for the game, his permission slip for the game bus. Sometimes you just have to let him learn to swim on his own.
4. You fail to see that your child is at fault, and look for others to blame. Coaches, refs and other players are easy scapegoats for parents who don't like to see their kids' imperfections or admit that their kids might not be the studs they perceive them to be.
5. You join your child's rants about bad coaching or selfish teammates instead of helping her cope with the situation rationally.
6. Your empathetic listening turns into a refusal to say anything that would upset your child. There is a time to shut up and there is a time to speak the truth in love.
7. You intervene with coaches or teachers on your child's behalf, begging for mercy when her grades aren't up to par, or when she breaks a rule. Let her suffer the consequences of her choices; that's the only way she will really learn a hard lesson.
8. You interfere in teammate squabbles, thinking you are helping to solve the problem when actually you are probably making it worse. Let your child work through his own friendship hassles with your sideline support.
9. Your love and guidance turn into hovering and over-controlling, causing you to morph into a dysfunctional sports "agent" for your child. Don't force your vision for your child's future on her; let her figure it out.
10. You try to guard your child from all disappointment, when in fact she can probably handle it better than you think. No parent wants a child to face setbacks or defeat, but life will always deal unfair blows and your child needs to learn how to handle failures and defeats. Let him start learning in youth sports, the "practice field for life."
There is no one-size-fits-all parenting strategy, but in the end, your child needs your affection, encouragement, guidance, and tough love.