Sports can help kids stay physically fit, develop friendships and learn how to set personal goals and become team players. However, according to the Utah State Family and Sport Lab, the number-one reason kids stop participating in sports is that the activity is no longer fun.
When your child becomes interested in sports, you, the coach and the school need to work together with your child to deliver an environment that fosters and nurtures his efforts in the sport while maintaining a fun learning environment. How to stay involved with your child’s sports activities to develop a positive and fun experience for all follows.
Work With the Coach
Coaches are often volunteers from the community who are taking time to work with kids, especially elementary school age or younger. A coach who is a volunteer paren or community leader is taking time from his own family to help out. With school-based sports, the coach may be a trained teacher or school coach who spends many hours outside of coaching on preparation. Whether a community volunteer or a full-time teacher, the coach is often required to complete training and education on both the sport and on working with children.
In addition, many sports systems require coaches to have ongoing annual training to stay current on the sport and on ways to keep kids safe. Coaches within a public-school system are approved and licensed by the state. Coaches are trained and educated to make decisions based on an individual child’s ability in the most positive way possible.
As the parent, your job is to trust the coach and his decisions regarding the sport or activity and the team. If you have a concern with a coach’s decision or any other questions, schedule a time to talk with the coach. This is better than trying to talk to him in passing or right after a game or practice, when many people might be trying to get his attention. Also, after a game, emotions may be running high, which could prevent a positive conversation. The coach should make time to talk to you and discuss any questions or concerns you have. Communication at the right time and location is key in working together.
When learning to work with your child’s coach, you should ask about his personal philosophy of coaching. Find out what the coach expects from your child and from you. Ask questions and gather information to determine how you can best assist the coach to focus on the children. Help the coach develop a team atmosphere and climate, which will nurture your child’s enjoyment of the activity.
Practice Good Sportsmanship
If you’re a sports parent, modeling good sportsmanship is paramount, according to the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. First, show your child unconditional love by praising the efforts and work put into practice and preparation, even if her team lost. Make sure your child understands, win or lose, you love her. Second, mistakes happen. Your child needs to feel secure in the work she did right during the game or practice. Praise your child for the positive performance, and leave it to the coach to correct any mistakes. Third, remember to encourage and be a positive example, even if the game did not go the way your child wanted. Your child might be disappointed in a team loss or not playing as much as she wanted to, but it’s important to make sure she does not quit just because she is disappointed with the results.
Communicate effectively in a positive way. Your child listens to what you say to others. In fact, a child you think is out of earshot or distracted by another activity may still hear you. When a team loses or a referee makes a call with which you disagree, think about being a positive role model to the kids on the field or court or even those on the bench and in the stands. Your child often views and reacts to the world the same way you do. If your emphasis is on winning at all costs, your child will have the same attitude.
Conversely, if you view sports as a way to encourage development and have fun with winning as the by-product of hard work, your child will probably see it the same way, too. According to the American Psychology Association, two of the top-three reasons for a child to stop playing sports are overemphasis on swimming and parental pressure to win. Be aware that your child is watching and learning from your words and actions.
Balance Your Child’s Schedule
Children need rest and play for balanced development. Structure and routine, such as those associated with engaging in sports, are good and needed to assist your child in setting goals and following time commitments. Be sure to schedule downtime for your child to just relax or play. With school, homework and sports, balance your child’s schedule and allow family time as well as alone time for your child to recover. Sports-focused kids may develop burnout at an early age if the focus is continually on the task or sport, and not the child or allowing the child to just be a kid.
What If Your Child Isn’t Into Sports?
Not all kids are interested in sports or physical fitness. It might be difficult to encourage some kids to even want to attend physical education class at school. You can explain to your child that just as our bodies need food, water and sleep, they also need exercise. Encourage your child to participate in physical education class activities so he can learn skills that may have a long-lasting, positive impact on his physical fitness. Research studies have demonstrated a link among physical fitness, mental activity and overall health, so try to motivate and encourage your child’s engagement in fitness or sports.
Sports psychologists and researchers agree that participation in sports may have a positive impact on a child when done correctly with the right coach and parental involvement. Whether your child can throw like an NFL pro or is just learning the rules of the game, encouraging positive participation on the field as well as on the sidelines can have an impact on your child’s long-term success and happiness. One key component to making sports an overall positive experience is your involvement. The right amount and type of parental involvement are key to making sports positive and fun for everyone: coach, parent and, most importantly, your child.
Stephanie C. Evans, PhD, APRN, CPNP-PC, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Texas Christian University, Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Stephanie is a PNP with over two decades of experience in pediatrics and working with kids.