As society has transformed over the past 30 years there have been significant paradigm shifts in physical activity and sport. On the one hand changing childhood behaviour patterns has resulted in decreasing physical activity levels whilst at the other end of the spectrum the increasing professionalism of sport has exacerbated the pressure placed on young sports people to perform. What has not changed is our fundamental role as parents to nurture and support our children in their biological, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development.
Physical activity and sport is one means by which we can achieve this goal of developing a future generation that have the characteristics of compassion, determination, integrity, loyalty and trust whilst at the same time receiving the benefits of achievement, enjoyment, friendship, inclusiveness, opportunity, team work and well-being.
But how do we as parents carry out this role to the best of our ability in the face of these changing pressures. Here are 25 practical tips that will assist you in this responsibility of developing children with skills for long-term success in sport and life whether they participate at the highest competitive level or merely for the love of the game. They will assist you to turn your child’s own level of potential into their own level of performance.
1. Provide unconditional love for your child – love them for who they are, not what they do. Don’t define them by their sporting successes and failures.
2. Remember that children are not miniature adults and therefore have their own unique development needs and timeframes. They are kids 1st and sports people 2nd!
3. Allow them to explore and discover for themselves until they find the sport/physical activity that best suits them. Accept that their passion for a sport may change over time.
4. As far as possible resist specialisation in one sport under the age of 12-14. Let them experience a variety of different activities.
5. At the younger ages, promote general movement skills such as running, catching, throwing, agility, balancing, co-ordination, speed and rhythm as these from the basis of most sports and can thus be transferred from one sport to another.
6. Talk with your child and listen to what he/she wants from sport, why they are participating and how they are feeling about themselves and their performance. Support them to achieve their goals.
7. Be a role model. Walk the talk – you can’t expect your child to behave appropriately if you don’t! Control your emotions and act in a calm and dignified manner. Stay physically active yourself and organise family activities such as a walk on the beach or a relaxed jog around the neighbourhood.
8. Insist on a balanced approach where there is time for school work, sport, family and friendships outside of their sport. Research has shown that an athlete with a balanced approach performs more effectively.
9. Choose a coach who has good technical skills and a high emotional intelligence, i.e. can communicate effectively and empathise with young sports people.
10. Support the efforts of the coach, don’t run him/her down or challenge them in public. If you have an issue with a coach address it in private and especially not in front of your child.
11. Provide constructive feedback to your child and resist the urge to critique their performance (even if you are a coach or have played at a competitive level). That is the coach’s role.
12. Respect the rights and dignity of all officials (many of them are volunteers) and take the time to thank and compliment them where appropriate. Research in the US has shown that up to 70% of officials quit as a result of poor sportsmanship by parents.
13. Volunteer to assist where appropriate but try to limit direct involvement with your own child particularly in a coaching role.
14. Appreciate good performances from all participants, not just your own child. Not only is this respectful, but it will decrease your child’s self centredness.
15. Teach your child sportsmanship, fair play and the rules of the game from an early age.
16. Recognise and reward your child’s progress and efforts and not just the results – winning or losing is out of their control. There is no correlation between winning at an early age and later success. The process of mastering the skills is more important and that might not mean always winning when young.
17. Let your child appreciate that he/she cannot win every time and support them through their setbacks which are an important part of developing resilience and mental toughness for life.
18. Don’t confuse investment with sacrifice. Money in does not equal performance out.
19. Don’t compare your child with others or compete with other parents. Each child is an individual who has their own level of performance and potential.
20. Don’t embarrass your child, cheer appropriately!
21. Emphasise fun and enjoyment – your child’s not yours.
22. Provide a balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods. Resist the temptation of the marketing hype surrounding “magic” drinks and pills that can’t replace the consistency of hard work, discipline, skills development and a positive attitude derived from the love of the sport.
23. Support the development of your child as a person with a strong character and values, by enhancing their self-believe and self-confidence by ensuring that every interaction you have with them is positive.
24. Encourage self-management and independence by not doing everything for them but letting them take responsibility for their own activities.
25. Have patience – it takes time to learn the skills needed to develop into a competent sports person and there will be times when progress is flat. Encourage and motivate your child through these difficult times.