Don't Call Him a Klutz! And More Rules of the Parenting Game

By Marilynn Preston

May 21, 2019 5 min read

"Hit the ball! You're not concentrating!"

"Your baby sister could have caught that!"

"Run! Faster! You're not even trying!"

Lots of parents don't know how to behave when they watch their kid playing. They're loud and obnoxious and supercritical. So how should they act? Differently.

Here are some vital parenting rules to help you lead your child into a life of active play so they don't give up and drop out of sports before they've had a chance to find the one they love, even if it's football:

— BE POSITIVE. If you can't say something nice during a game, say nothing at all. Or stay home. You're the parent, not the coach. Your job is to be supportive, encouraging, unconditionally loving. Keep your comments positive. Let go of the negative. Give your kid credit for showing up, for working well with his teammates, for being a good sport. These qualities are a thousand times more important to your kid's future well-being than the final score of the game.

— FOCUS ON FUN. If you want your kids to relax and enjoy sports, you have to relax and enjoy watching. If you get upset and unruly, so will they. All the experts agree: The quickest way to kill a kid's interest in sports is to overemphasize winning. It's a game! The real victory is for your kid to feel comfortable and happy chasing a tennis ball or swinging a bat. Kids who are made to feel unworthy on the ballfield take that insecurity into adulthood. It's not pretty.

— PRAISE THE EFFORT IN SPITE OF THE OUTCOME. If your kid's team wins the game, bravo. But if your youngster is on the losing side, you need to offer empathy, not criticism. Recognize the loss, but don't dwell on it. The teachable moment is all about resiliency. If you can develop that nothing-can-defeat-me spirit as a kid, being an adult gets a whole lot easier. Instead of dwelling on the loss, shift your kid's focus to something positive: What was the best part of the game? Did you learn something? Make a new friend?

— BE AVAILABLE. Your behavior on game day is important, but a winning attitude at home counts, too. Do less talking and a lot more listening to your kid's experience. Don't judge. And don't box them into playing soccer just because you grew up with posters of Pele in your room. Go join an adult soccer league and let your kids find what they love. Irish Dancing? Trampoline? Cave diving? (God forbid.)

— STAY ABOVE THE FRAY. Sometimes fights erupt at a game, in the stands, on the field. Stay out of it. Don't abuse the refs or boo the other team. Stay cool, take a few calming breaths and eat some peanuts till the argument blows over. It's also unwise to be critical of a coach in front of your kids. It you've got a question or complaint, take it up privately.

— KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE. Research shows that most kids play sports to have fun, improve their skills and socialize with their friends. Winning isn't as big a deal to kids as it is to adults.

A much bigger deal is having your daughter or son feel good after the game. Fake praise won't do it. Kids are smarter than that.

If you parent with positive feedback and compassion when it comes to sports, your kid is much more likely to grow up enjoying an active, healthy lifestyle.

And that's the real goal, isn't it?

I have one more goal to mention. There is a life-changing sports and leadership summer camp for girls in Chicago run by Girls in the Game (, an award winning nonprofit. I was founding chair, still on the board, and remain a shameless cheerleader.

In the next few weeks, we hope to raise enough money to take 150 girls off the mean streets of that great city and into our stellar, safe summer camp. The girls play a great mix of sports, eat real food, develop as leaders and learn how to handle any violence their lives.

That's how you help change the world — one kid at a time. I'm pasting in the link below. Told you I was shameless.


"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted." — Garrison Keillor

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller, "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being," is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit

Photo credit: KeithJJ at Pixabay

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