You don’t have to look any farther than the Marina Green on a Saturday morning to know the world of youth sports is alive and kicking. It seems children today are learning and playing sports competitively at a much younger age. My husband and I both played team sports growing up and look back fondly on those experiences. I don’t remember how many baskets I scored or ribbons I won, but I do remember it was fun, and I learned valuable life lessons about teamwork, hard work, and setting goals. These are all things we want for our children. Granted, they are still young so right now what is most important is it is fun, keeps them active, and they learn good sportsmanship.
With a little support, encouragement, and good role modeling, playing a sport can be an enjoyable and memorable experience. Here are a few tips on how to make that happen:
Don’t focus on winning. Is this possible? The answer is yes, but it takes effort. I’ll never forget my son’s first soccer game when even though they were not technically supposed to be keeping score, every parent on the sideline knew how many goals each team had scored. As parents, we have to decide how much importance we want to place on winning and make losing a teachable moment. As we all know in life, you win some and you lose some, and you have to know how to handle both gracefully. Instead of focusing on the score, encourage your child to compete against himself or herself. I helped coach my daughter’s basketball team, and she can be a bit timid, so each game we had her try to shoot the ball one more time than she did the previous game. We told her it didn’t matter if she made it, but she had to try. Watching her try to reach her goal was so exciting, and her goal became more important to her than the score.
Keep it in perspective. We as parents can put a lot of pressure on our children and feed off of the competitive spirit of parents around us, and before we know it we are convinced our four-year-old will be the next Gabby Douglas or Buster Posey. According to research by the NCAA, less than 1 percent of athletes will play at a professional level. Does this mean they shouldn’t dream of one day playing for the Giants or 49ers? Absolutely not, but have your children try a lot of different sports, including both team and individual. These days there is a lot of pressure to have young children focus on one sport, but often times they end up getting burned out or suffering from repetitive-use or overuse injuries, which have drastically increased in young children. Remember, what is most important is that they enjoy the sport they play and have fun.
Be a good sport. We are our child’s best teachers, so if we want them to learn how to be a good winner and loser then we need to show them how it is done (this is true for the parking lot as much as the court or field). Make sure at the end of the game your child shakes the other team’s hands and thanks their coach before they leave. It is easy to forget that more often than not the coaches are volunteers and parents who make time to help teach our children, so they should feel appreciated by both the players and the parents. Don’t yell at the other players or criticize the coaches in front of your child, and at the end of a game or practice, try providing your child with positive feedback by pointing out one or two things he or she did well. It is also important not to talk about how good other children are on the team, because this will only add to the pressure your child feels and can be detrimental.
As parents, our role is to support and encourage our child’s participation and make sure it is enjoyable. Recently, an athletic director told a group of parents that their role should be to help their young children take the focus away from the scoreboard and put more toward strong character development. I couldn’t agree more; they have the rest of their lives to worry about the score. We all know the pressures of trying to win or get ahead and how competitive the real world can be. I hope we can shield our children from that for as long as we can so they can just play and have fun.