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Long-Distance Parental Support


If your child is passionate about playing sports competitively, it stands to reason that you’re passionate about the same sport. Bumper stickers, yard signs, T-shirts, ads in the program, selling tickets at home games, making posters for pep rallies, you do it all. You trade vacation time at work for the opportunity to attend volleyball tournaments that start at 8 a.m. 100 miles from home and swim meets that eat up every single minute of your weekend to be there for your child.

For an overwhelmingly large number of parents, that environment changes dramatically when your son or daughter becomes a college athlete. Oh sure, you get to as many competitions as you can, given distance and schedule. When the road events are in Miami, Florida, one weekend, and Boston, Massachusetts, the next, even the most dedicated sports parent rarely has the ability, not to mention the budget to make every single game.

Being a long-distance sports parent takes just as much transition and adjustment as being at college. The game has changed in nearly every regard, and the love and support that used to flow so freely between you and your favorite athlete are unlikely to have that same easy passage when they are out of the house, out of the city, and oft-times out of the state.

How best to still give them the support they need? Every kid is different, but these three basic steps can make a great foundation for your role as a long-distance sports parent.

Talk About Everything

Talk about everything, not just sports. Over the course of their time in high school sports might have been a connecting point between you and your child, but it was not the only subject on the table. You monitored how they slept, what they ate, how they did in school, who their friends were, who they dated, and what they did when they thought you weren’t looking. Every bit of college life is a new experience for most kids, and it’s natural for them to have fears, doubts, concerns, and joys about what they see and learn on a daily basis. Embrace it all with questions and more importantly, with time to listen – whether you do it by phone, letter, Facetime, or text message.

Watch for the warning signs.

Watch for the warning signs; Life isn’t an after-school special and your kids aren’t going to blurt out that they’ve started drinking, that they’re considering trying PEDs, Performance Enhancing Drugs, or that they failed that first big test miserably and sort of need a miracle to stay eligible for the season. You’ll experience it in the frequency or lack thereof of phone calls, texts, or emails. By the way, they change the subject if you hit on a sensitive topic. Listen to the tone of their voice when you ask honest questions about a particular class, teammate, or test. Let’s face it, your maternal/paternal worrying instincts are going to be working overtime when your star athlete heads off to school, but it’s important to continue to trust them.

Don’t live vicariously through them

Don’t live vicariously through them: Remember which life is yours and which life is theirs. Remember their dreams might change over time. Your high school freshman might have had dreams of being on the US National Soccer Team, but the college junior she has become might be more interested in being able to walk for the rest of her life without shooting pain in her knees on each and every step. Always remember that your child is also a budding adult and the driver of his or her athletic career.

Parenting is difficult in the best of circumstances, let alone when you have to do it from a distance. No longer can you be the disciplinarian. Now is the time to become the support system for your child. Let them know that you are always there to help them, but they are now in charge of their life and decisions. If they need you all they have to do is call, college is the beginning of their adult life, and it is time for them to branch out on their own.

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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.