When you set your child off on their sporting career have you ever thought of what you really want them to achieve? Are they playing the same sport that you played and gave you so much joy? Have you let them decide what they would like to have a go at?
Do you want them to be a top sportsman or woman? Do you want local bragging rights because your local team wins at the weekend and your child is part of it?
Have you signed your child up to sport so that they can gain the many life experiences that go with it? Learning to work as part of a team, to be physically fit, increased self esteem, improved academic performance, self organisation and resilience to name but a few.
So when you finally gather breath at the end of the journey from the rat race of children’s sport and you have no more logistics to organise, no more kit to wash, no more packed meals to prepare and no more car journeys to and from matches, what can you define as it being a success?
One answer that often gets overlooked and probably should be the defining outcome is a lifelong participation in sport or physical activity.
How many children do you know who thrived at sport in school and now no longer play? How many do you know who are unrecognisable from the thin spritely athletes they once were to comfortable middle aged men?
If we want our children to have a lifelong love affair with sport then we need to teach them what is important and how to fall in love with a sport by the environment that we create?
I have two very personal stories close to home that got me thinking about this topic. A young boy, a decent rugby player(an England trialist at U19) many years ago who gave up the sport at 22. Bored, demotivated and struggling with the competition in the men’s game.
His great love was football, granted that boy would never have been a professional footballer but at 38 he would still have been playing now, scoring goals and having a laugh with a group of mates. Instead he now plays no organised sport. How did this come about? His dad loved rugby and there was never really a choice about which sport came first when he was growing up.
Another young man who had a professional cricket contract with Yorkshire, publicly burns his kit and says he hates the game after quitting a few years ago. Why? He didn’t enjoy it and wished that people had stopped saying to him, ‘Well what a waste of ability that would be?’ as he was growing up when he threatened to quit earlier. Again, why did he play? Because he followed a line of illustrious ancestors who had all played the game and he felt that he had to follow suit.
Ultimately, the game has to be fun to the children who are playing it. If not they will stick with it to a point but then give it up when the appropriate opportunity arises and they get to make their own choices.
Both of these men are very good coaches now in their respective sports but their players and parents are gobsmacked when they tell them they don’t really like the games that they now coach, however, they still do a fantastic job when coaching and have a really positive impact on the players they work with. Maybe they manage their players accordingly based on their own experiences.
Here are a few tips for you all to help you in getting your children to fall in love with a sport?
- Help them master some basics. In the early stages of sport help them enjoy different athletic and gymnastic movements so that when organised sport comes along they are far better equipped to enjoy some success.
- Don’t let them play just play one sport. This specialisation can lead to burnout and overuse injuries at a later date. Let them play as many sports as they can, they will have a greater chance of finding the one that they love.
- Don’t get carried away at home with any success. When they start out we have little expectation but once children start we have a tendency to turn back garden play into a full blown coaching session.
- Let the child decide what they want to play. Don’t put words into their mouth and choose for them.
- Find the right environment and the right coach for your child. Coaches can play a key role in a child’s development but a bad one who focusses on the wrong things can put a child off for life.
- Don’t compare them to other children. Children grow, learn and develop at different times and speeds. Just enjoy the fact they are involved in physical activity.
The next time you watch your child play or are thinking of what to plan in the next stage of their sporting development, perhaps in the back of your mind you should be thinking, ‘Are they still really having fun? Is what we are about to do going to help them continue to participate in sport and physical activity for a lifetime?’
If the answer is YES, then congratulations as you may be able to sit in your armchair in years to come and know that you have achieved the ultimate success as a sporting parent.