The Four Fs of Youth Sports for Parents

Hint: Feedback isn’t one of them

Diana McKeon Charkalis

| 3 min read

Kirsten Jones (left) embraces the Four Fs with the 9- and 10-year-old volleyball team she coaches.

Youth sports can be all-consuming for parents. But Kirsten Jones — co-host of the #raisingathletes podcast, youth volleyball coach and former Division I volleyball player — says that for kids 13 and under, you can’t go wrong if you focus on what she calls the “Four Fs” of raising a youth athlete: fun, friends, fundamentals and FOMO.

When kids are free to explore the first three Fs, it can lead to great things. 

And that fourth F? It’s mostly for parents.  

Fun

First and foremost, the point of youth sports is fun. And parents with their eyes on the scoreboard often lose sight of this. 

“We have to check ourselves because we can get so caught up in the winning and the losing,” Jones says. “And literally, kids walk off the court or the field or get out of the pool and they’ve already forgotten it all before they’ve even gotten to the curb.” 

Since 75% of kids leave sports by age 13, keeping the focus on fun can go a long way toward increasing the odds of continued participation.

“It’s their journey,” says Jones. “Let them have fun.”

Friends

It’s all about making friends at this age. “We’re social creatures,” says Jones, “and particularly after the year we’ve all just had, kids have been reminded more than anything of the need for connection with friends.”

As Jones points out, the sleepovers and pizza parties with teammates can be just as important as the games themselves. And learning to be social ultimately helps kids both on and off the field.  

Fundamentals

Of course, kids are there at practice to learn the sport — and developing skills is a vital piece of any season, whether it’s a player’s first or 14th. 

Jones says parents shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the simple things — even just learning the athletic stance — and core skills like dribbling and passing. She likes to remind people that John Wooden would begin a season by asking his college players to take off their shoes and put their socks on properly. In other words, no skill is too basic. 

FOMO 

For many adults, the fear of missing out is real when it comes to kids’ sports. But who exactly is missing out? 

Says Jones, speaking as a parent, “Our egos get caught up in the success of our kids.” You have to ask yourself, “Am I more invested in this than they are?”

FOMO can take on many forms. Did my kid get on the right team? Did they start at the right time? Are they developing fast enough? 

Jones’ advice — as a parent and professional? “Let go. Don’t keep up with the Joneses.”

“It’s not about you,” she says. “It’s their journey, and we are there to support them. You only get 18 summers and then they’re gone. Use your summer wisely.”

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