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The Serenity Prayer for Youth Sports

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

the courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference

I’ve had plenty of experience on both sides and, in terms of frustration level, I’d have to say that it’s harder to be a spectator than it is to be competing on the court. Just like being stuck in a traffic jam, you have exactly zero control over how it plays out. My guess is that yelling and directing from the sidelines is an attempt to be involved and to feel like you have some influence. There really is only so much you can do from the bleachers. It’s time to bring the Serenity Prayer into youth sports.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

I cannot change what the referees call. They make their best judgement at the time. Yelling at them will not change their call, but may cause discomfort for my child and their team.

I cannot change how my child plays. They are doing their best with what they have at this moment. Yelling only puts more pressure on them and sends the message that I am constantly judging their performance. It’s their coach’s responsibility to know how to get the best out of each player.

I cannot change how their opponents play. In competitive sports, the outcome is determined by how people play relative to each other. I get to appreciate the struggle and be impressed with what their opponents bring to the table.

I cannot change who my child is. Their unique personality has been shining since they were born. I can accept who they are and find ways to support them to get the best out of themselves.

I cannot change what has already happened. There is no point in complaining about or rehashing prior performances. It will not change the past, but may very well ruin the present. There is no room for should haves in sports parenting.

I cannot change what activities my child likes (or dislikes). Just because I love a certain sport, doesn’t mean that they will, too. I can introduce them to a smorgasbord of activities to give them an opportunity to find ones they like. Once they do, I can support them and follow their joy.

I cannot change my child’s feelings. I cannot talk them out of whatever they are experiencing, or make it better. If I try to do that, they don’t feel heard or understood. It doesn’t change what they’re feeling, but may add resentment.

the courage to change the things I can

I can change how I watch my child perform. I can choose to view the experience as theirs and enjoy watching them go through all the ups and downs that come along with sports, without trying to impact it. It takes the pressure off me and gives me the capacity to fully support them.

I can change what I say to my child on the way home from their sport. Kids dread the car ride home, because they don’t want to be lectured, criticized or interrogated. It’s not our job to be the judge of their performance. All they want to hear is that we love to watch them play. That’s it!

I can change how I respond to stressful situations. I can practice taking deep breaths to regulate myself, so I don’t lash out and do or say something I may regret.

I can change where I put my focus. Instead of putting energy into the results, I can appreciate the process of learning and improving, remembering that the path to mastery is never linear.

I can change how I think about, and respond to failure. I can choose to view mistakes as learning opportunities and respond with curiosity when things don’t go according to plan. This will model creativity and problem solving for my kids.

I can change how I communicate with my child. I can seek first to understand what’s going on for them, before I try to get them to see my perspective. That way I will be able to understand their experience, rather than shutting them down with my interpretation.

I can change my expectations. I can choose to see the bigger picture of their sporting experience. I can recognize the lessons they are learning, without looking for the instant gratification of scoreboard success. I can also remember that they are children and are still learning how to work through disappointment and frustration.

the wisdom to know the difference

I realize that I can’t change anyone else. I can’t change their thoughts, their feelings or their actions. I can change my own interpretations and my own responses. Looking at whether it’s about me or about someone else will help me know the difference between whether I need acceptance or courage.

I know that accepting the things I can’t change has helped me as a parent... and when I’m stuck in traffic. I hope remembering the Serenity Prayer can ease a little of the frustration for you, too.