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5 Ways Sports Strengthen Family

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Amidst the many benefits of sports participation, I want to talk about the ways that sports can strengthen families. Sports have been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have competitive genes, I love to be physical, and yes I love to win. However, when I think about my life in sports, my greatest take-away is the relationships, especially with my family. From footraces and arm-wrestling with my mom to riding the ski lift with my dad to playing and talking fantasy with my spouse to the annual family march madness bracket and now playing ball in the yard and going to games with my children…so many of my memories and identities involve sports. So yes, exercise is a huge plus as well as learning to win and lose with grace and what it means to be part of a team. But don’t forget these 4 amazing ways that sports can strengthen your family:

  1. Traditions. Sports, among other activities, offer a wonderful opportunity to start and continue family traditions and customs. The special dance during intermissions, the burger joint on opening day, strategic outfits and signs when attending games, or the infamous tailgate routine are all ways to build and strengthen relationships. My father was a professional skateboarder. Time spent with dad always included skating on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach with strategic pit-stops at our favorite spots including gyros at Kojacks, sunset at Lahania, and pool at Cass. We have skated that boardwalk and enjoyed those places so many times that when it doesn’t happen, I feel like part of me is missing. And now that my father has passed on, I know where to go to find him and our happiest memories. It’s never too soon or too late to start those traditions that carve out unique family identities and memories that last a lifetime and beyond. Whatever fits your family and brings you together, start it today!
  2. Values. The competitive nature of sports also create a space to discuss important values in a family context. For example, when I was young I was a terrible loser. Some would argue I still struggle with this aspect. If I lost, I generally had a bad attitude and exhibited other ungraceful behaviors. My mother and I are very close and we often played games or raced and she did not “let” me win. She tells stories of how angry I would get and how she refused to play with me at times due to my bad attitude. And these numerous instances always gave us a chance to talk about winning and losing and how I should act and why. She would share stories from her past that allowed encouraged me to learn values that were important to her and us as a family. Maybe in your family you always look the coach in the eye when s/he is speaking or go shake the hand of a specific player on the other team who you thought played excellent. Perhaps you always hustle in uniform or treat the officials with respect regardless of the call. Whatever values you hold most dear and seek to impart to your young ones, sports continuously bring about challenging situations where character and integrity can be discussed and practiced.
  3. Bonding. Strengthening relational bonds among family members is of great importance. Sometimes the distance between generations or personalities or interests can feel like miles. Sports participation can generate hundreds of conversations and various ways to connect, spend time, and bond with your family. I have worked with many athletes of all ages and the number one thing they want from their families is support. Be there, ask questions, show interest. If sports are not really your thing but your child is all in, then let your child be your teacher and tell you about the rules, the nuances, the strategies. Any chance to allow a child to become an expert is a great bonding opportunity. If your family is big into sports then participation prompts the sharing of important family stories strengthen bonds and relay histories. When I was young, both of my parents worked and often were unable to attend my numerous competitions. However, they both supported my efforts and I fondly remember discussing the details of practices and games and what I was learning in our conversations. And when they were able to attend games, it meant everything to me.
  4. Relational Versatility. Sports participation provides a great opportunity to show children that relationships and roles have options. One of the most difficult challenges to having a child in sports is having good boundaries. Adults at youth competitions have one role and one role only, support! Disagree if you will, but thousands of children burnt out on sports by age 12 speaks pretty darn loudly. And if you listen closely you will find that too much focus on winning is the trouble.  This is an excellent chance to show your young athlete that you can set aside your parent role to be a friend and a fan when appropriate. This is a huge advantage for the numerous important conversations ahead (sex, drugs, social struggles, etc…). Competitive spaces can wreak havoc on relationships when love is perceived as conditional upon skill, performance, behavior, and winning. We live in a society that is focused on if not obsessed with winning (see post on Winning Is(nt) Everything). There is so much pressure to succeed that many are terrified to even try. And that my friends, is completely unacceptable. Show your athlete that on good days and bad and every one in between your love does not waver no matter what. For example, when your child makes a mistake or misses a big play and they turn to the crowd to find your face, you are waiting with a look of support and encouragement not embarrassment or disappointment. This is easier said than done, which is why it’s important to consider in advance. After competitions, let them lead the talking and DO NOT offer critique of athletic performance unless they ask for it and mean it. In doing so you will increase trust, strengthen your relationship, and hopefully open that very important line of communication for the future.

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