Mia Hamm: 'Be a parent first, coach second'

Parents are coaches from day one. So, when a child or adolescent has been on the losing side of a game or match, instinct might be to point out what went wrong and what to do better next time.

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Parents are coaches from day one. We teach our children how to walk, how to eat, how better to tie their shoes. So, when a child or adolescent has been on the losing side of a game or match, instinct might be to point out what went wrong and what to do better next time.

Consider, if you don't already, keeping in mind that positivity and helping children feel supported are key elements to keeping children interested in sports -- not to mention key in the parent-child relationship.

If you decide to take Mia Hamm's advice, you'll support your children by being positive, win or lose.

A mother of three, Hamm has twice been named ESPN's Female Athlete of the Year, and she is the proud owner of two World Cup trophies and two Olympic gold medals. So, when she speaks on what it takes to be successful, she has a pretty trustworthy resume.

Hamm says the number one aspect of a child's success is positivity.

"The car ride home," she says, "is now a symbol of what many kids dislike most about sports. That's when parents criticize their performance, or say negative things about their coaches or teammates."

Think about it for just a moment -- do you know what it's like to dread a 'car ride' moment, knowing you will be stuck and at the whim of someone who holds tremendous power over you? If it can make your stomach a little nervous, thinking of those moments, imagine the feelings of a child on the walk to the car, cleats crunching gravel, stomach in knots.

So, whether your son or daughter plays soccer or another sport, try reflecting on how you handle the ride home (which can be a long one, if your child is on a travel team).

As parents, it can be easy to forget that our children are smart and intuitive -- they can read our body language and they notice if we are upbeat after a win, or quiet and cold after a loss. Certainly they'll notice if you are hypercritical -- win or lose.

Dr. Gregory A. Dale, director of the Sport Psychology and Leadership Programs for Duke University Athletics, says there are some simple tools to help you be a parent first and a coach second.

"Most parents have their hearts in the right place when it comes to their children and sport. Unfortunately, some of us lose perspective along the way. Before competition, the only phrase we should use is, 'have fun,' "Dale said. "During competition, we should only use positive adjectives and stay away from using verbs."

OK, but how should we handle ourselves after competition? "Our love and support must be unconditional," says Dale.

"Finally, remember they need space after performing poorly," he said. "Just be their parent rather than trying to be their coach."

Hamm suggests parents also check their behavior on the sidelines.

"Kids on the field look over to their parents for approval, and I can see the adults' body language showing disapproval or disappointment," she said. "Parents -- keep a smile on your face, clap your hands, give a thumbs-up, show encouragement. You have to remember they are just kids. Win or lose, it's important to be a parent first and a coach second."

This story was written for our sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

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