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Finding Happiness As A Sports Parent

The HAPPY Formula

Sports parents in front of minivan with kidsThere are 15 seconds left on the clock and the score is tied. Your kid, the point guard, brings the ball down the court. He whizzes past the defense, and passes into the low post. The tall kid in the middle immediately kicks the ball out again to your kid. He releases a jumper just before the buzzer and ... it's good! What a great moment for your child.

Too bad you missed it because you had to go pick up your other child at soccer practice.

Taking a toll

Youth sports offer wonderful opportunities for kids to learn the importance of hard work and teamwork and teaches kids to win graciously and lose with their heads held high.

But youth sports also take a real toll on American families. Occasions that used to be "family time" - like weekends, birthdays and holidays - are usurped by unrelenting, year-round practice and games. Sports parents drive from place to place or town to town in a blur of car pooling and chauffeuring.

As parents get more exhausted and stressed, so do their kids. Which, inevitably raises the question: Is anyone happy?

If you want your kids to be happy today and to grow up to be happy adults, you need to show them what a happy adult looks like.

It's not as hard as it sounds.

Finding happiness as a sports parent is possible. Just remember the HAPPY mnemonic:

1. H is for healthy:

  • Move! It's hard to be happy if you're too tired or your energy is low. We know that time is at a premium, but there are things you can do to take care of your health even when you have little time. Research has shown that 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, like walking, makes a big difference. So the next time you are at a soccer game, try walking around the field as you watch the game, or park far away from the gym so you have to walk a little more.
  • Drink! Carry a water bottle with you everywhere, especially in the car during all of that driving. Take a sip every time you stop.
  • Sleep! Most adults need eight hours of sleep a day and very few of us get more than six. Make sleep a priority. Try to add 15 minutes of sleep to your day and keep adding 15 minutes each week until you get close to 8. You'll find you have more energy and feel less tempted to eat junk food.

2. A is for adaptability:

  • Stay grounded. Change is constant in a sports parents' life. Coaches change, teams change, your child's body changes and, of course, schedules change - often. It's enough to make anyone crazy. To navigate change gracefully and with a minimum of swearing, you need to provide stability. When you child starts with a new team or a new coach, it can be very emotional for everyone. Your child wants to please the coach and do well but needs to understand what the coach expects. Many coaches do not communicate their expectations very clearly. The best thing you can do for your child and yourself is to stay calm and grounded in your values: Remind yourself of the reasons your child is participating in this sport. Focus on the things you control, like staying consistently positive in your comments to your child before and after a game or competition. Don't stress about those things you cannot control like the coach's behavior.
  • Build a driver network: As for those last minute schedule changes, the best strategy is to build a network of drivers or join a car pool. If you have at least two other adults you can ask for help, chances are you can handle last minute schedule changes with minimal disruption to your work.

3. P is for being proud of what you do for your kids.

This is the toughest part of the HAPPY formula for sports parents to follow. By definition, sports are competitive. Sports parents are competitive, too. If your kid is not a so-called "star", there will be times that you feel disappointed, frustrated or maybe even a little embarrassed by your child. There also may be times when you are burning with righteous indignation because your kid was benched, in your view, unfairly. It's hard to feel proud of your kid when you've just spent hours watching her play less than her best and yet still get criticized by the coach.

Of course, if you express your disappointment, neither you nor your child will be happy. So, focus on the positive. Did you child do anything good in the game or competition? Start with that. If he brings up his mistakes, stay neutral. Say, "Yes, I saw that. What do you think was happening? How can you do better next time?"

Maybe the most positive thing you can focus on is the fact that your child did not pout or cry despite being reprimanded by the coach in front of the team (whether that is acceptable behavior by the coach is another matter!). If that is the case, tell her so. Help your child identify his strengths and build on them. Talk your child through accepting and then letting go of the unfairness of a referee or a coach. Participating in youth sports is an opportunity to build character - yours and your child's.

3. Y is for being young at heart.

  • Find joy in small moments. Raising a family is hard. Raising a family while you work is even harder. Add youth sports to the mix and you've increased the degree of difficulty exponentially by however many sports your children play.

    When you are constantly rushing through your day - to get the kids off to school, get yourself to work, rushing out of work to get the kids to practice and them home for dinner, homework and bed - it can be hard to feel joyful. Start small. Joy is found in tiny moments, so you need to look for them. If your five- year-old tied his own shoes for the first time, celebrate! If you finally finished a project at work that had been dragging you down for weeks, rejoice.

  • Make drive time enjoyable. All that time in the car driving to and from practice is full of opportunity for joy. Drive time can be a great time to find out what happened in school that day. If you are car pooling, just ask a few open ended questions and the other kids in the car will probably tell you what your child would sullenly keep to himself. Or, if no one feels like talking, find some music on the radio that you like and enjoy it. Greatest hits from the 80s may not be the kid's favorite but it won't kill them either. Or, have them pick the music and see if you can get into it.

  • Keep your sense of humor. The best antidote for stress is laughter. Don't be afraid to be silly with your kids. Lighten the mood with a joke or a wry observation. If we take sports - or life - too seriously, so will they. Even if you're hoping your child will be good enough to earn a full ride to college, there is no reason to take the fun out of the game.

Happiness is contagious!

This is the only childhood your kids will ever have. What they need from you as a parent is more than private lessons and the best sports equipment. They need you to teach them your values and to show them a path to happiness by taking that path yourself.

Barrett Avigdor, J.D., is the co-author with Cathy Greenberg, Ph. D., of the inspiring new book, What Happy Working Mothers Know, which shows women that happiness is within their grasp and teaches them how to immediately bring happiness into their lives. She is Director of Legal Talent Strategy at Accenture, the technology consulting and outsourcing company. A certified career coach and happiness advocate, Barrett writes and speaks around the globe on how people can find happiness by working to their strengths and aligning their time with their values. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and two teenage sons and can be reached at barrett@barrettavigdor.com. For more about the book, click here.