The most important character quality to teach your child athlete


I (David) remember the scene well. Our oldest son Tavita, was crouched on the sideline with his head down. He was discouraged after losing our third game in a row. After a promising start to the season, he was taking more than his fair share of the blame for our losses. Following this third loss he didn’t feel like he could face our fans for the post-game thank-yous.

Tavita CPHS

Celebrating with Tavita after beating our rivals just 2 weeks after the devastating loss

Maybe you’ve heard it said; athletics teaches character. Or perhaps you’ve benefited from the teachable moments sports can afford. Or you might be that parent intent on using athletics and not letting athletics use your kid. Regardless, have you ever considered what the most important thing you want your child to take away from athletics? At the very least, what is the one critical character quality athletics has a way of teaching your child, perhaps better than anything else?

In athletics, as in life, you need character. Certainly we want to teach our children Godly character. Sports is a great place to learn things like hard work, teamwork, diligence, sacrifice etc. But these character qualities require one particular character in order to be lived out – and that’s the character of self-control. Think about it, we know what we need to do; we just need the self-discipline to actually do it. If your child isn’t interested in athletics, whatever activity they are involved in, make sure they’re learning self-control.

Here are some practical ways for your athlete to learn self-control:

  • Go to practice – make sure they go on time and ready to work especially when they don’t feel like it. Once the newness and excitement of joining the team leaves, what is left often times is the self-control to keep at it.
  • 24 Hour Rule – This is one of our triggers. After a loss or a big win we gave our kids 24 hours to deal with the emotion. They couldn’t be mean or disrespectful, but we allowed them a little space to process and get control.
  • Partner with their coaches – We know you are going to struggle with some coaches (read our blog on coaches). Be wise but don’t rescue your child every time they disagree with what the coach has done. Often the character gained is far more valuable than the playing time they missed.
  • Let them know you are in their corner – in the story I told above, I wanted to help Tavita escape embarrassment, but I knew it was a defining moment. I told him there would be better days. I also told him I’d go with him. We loved going to watch our kids when they won. But we knew it was more important to be there when they lost or if they got beat out or when they were discouraged.

We love athletics and what it has taught our kids. We’re not happy with some of the ways it seems to be trending. We continue to believe it’s an incredible tool to teach your child character… especially if you have the self-control to journey through it with them.

What was the greatest sports moment for your child? What was the hardest? What was your response?

7 thoughts on “The most important character quality to teach your child athlete

  1. This is a great article and refresher on the importance and value of parents role in leading our athletic children. Here is one of many profound moments I have witnessed through my kids sports experiences. My oldest son, who is a very intense competitor struggled as a youngster with self control and a short temper. As he matured into a young man and more focused athlete he purposed to become self controlled and less emotional when in competition – by his senior year he was recognized by his teammates and coaches as their leader and earned the team captain role. That year we were picked to finish atop our league in basketball with many local sports enthusiasts seeing this team in the state tourney. The season did not turn out as well as the team had hoped and ended in the district playoffs. On the last game of the playoffs as the final seconds ticked off the clock of his high school career the coach pulled him out of the game and verbally laid into him as he walked to the bench. I could tell by the look on his face that he was angered, hurt, and likely embarrassed by the exchange. He simply looked at the coach and slightly shrugged his shoulders then sat down on an empty seat. How he managed such restraint was amazing to me and a true testament of how much he had grown in the teenage years. I was proud of him and for him.

    • Bruce, thanks for stopping by and thanks for sharing about your son. It has to be one of the hardest things we do as parents… to sit by and watch as our kids experience something at the hands of an adult that should know better. Unfortunately, often times those adults too are hurting. I pray your son’s example made some sort of an impression on the coach. I join you in being proud of your son. What he takes away from the game he will take with him into his future. Way to go dad!!!

  2. I love this article. The most significant struggle for all of my boys is moving into a new athletic program every few years. They have been military brats for their entire education and have transitioned to a new state every 2-3 years, for the last 16 years. They have to fight the fight and earn every play. Coaches tend to have a loyalty to those kids they have witnessed growing in athletics in their hometowns. It’s frustrating as a parent to see your kids work so intensely and not be rewarded with play time. I have never been the parent that complains or tries to convince coaches that they are deserving. My kids know that they have to prove themselves on the field, track, wrestling mat, weight room, etc. I have to say that they are resilient, driven, focused, and well rounded young adults. I hope they can maintain those traits in every aspect of their lives. I often refer back to the Pritchard’s words of wisdom and we are grateful to you all.

    • Carrisa, we are so proud of your boys. It has to be one of the hardest thing to do as parents – to watch our kids being treated unfairly. We always want to advocate for our kids. Having the wisdom to know when to do it and when to let life happen is so difficult. One thing I will say as a parent and a coach, teaching our sons and daughters to go in and have a respectful heart to heart talk with the coach is a great step in the development process. It sends a couple of different messages, 1) it acknowledges the coach is in charge 2) it honors the coach if the player comes respectfully 3) By asking the coach, “is there anything I can do to earn more playing time” it takes at least some of the mystery and tension out of the equation. After the meeting the coach will know the player is aware of what is going on and if the coach has some specific things he would like the player to work on it’s now out in the open. I’m actually going to be writing about this soon as part of this series on raising an athlete. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  3. Dave, I truly enjoy reading the insights from you and kelly. it’s a joy to see that you are still the same positive, supportive, wonderful guy that I once knew. Your dedication to your “life” is humbling.

Comments are closed.