Parents, Children and Sport

By Sharon Ashton and Dr. Raksha Dave-Gates

Each weeknight from dinner hour until dusk, community baseball diamonds and outdoor soccer fields will be filled with the sights and sounds of spring.  Children by the dozen gather at these seasonal events, spilling out of mini-vans and station wagons with energy and enthusiasm to burn.  On the cooler evenings, parents huddle under blankets while they visit with neighbours and watch their childrens’ team sports.  The crack of a bat or the thud of a foot on leather, is punctuated by excited spectator cheers and curt referee calls.

Even though they are not actual game participants, parents, grandparents, and bystanders can play powerful supporting roles in the healthy emotional development of each young player.  Their sideline chatter of encouragement will become the self-talk that the child will rehearse when managing the inevitable achievements, setbacks, and defeats that come and go throughout life.

As children grow and develop, they have a number of “jobs” to accomplish at each developmental stage. This month we will focus on how team sports can provide marvelous opportunities to work at many of the tasks that are important from ages six through twelve.  During these years children need to learn new skills, learn from their mistakes, and decide that they want to be capable in whatever they choose to do.  They need to practice listening for information, to experience the consequences of breaking rules, and to develop internal controls.

As parents (or coaches) we should expect children to challenge, argue, and dispute the rules we set.  Because many parents are either coaches or enthusiastic and emotional spectators, they will have ample opportunities to demonstrate how to express objections assertively, respectfully, and maturely.  No doubt there will be times when parents or coaches will be bursting to challenge an official’s decision or an interpretation of the rules.  In those moments, remember to take time to breathe and think before plummeting into the behaviour patterns of the still-learning six-year old!  Your restraint will demonstrate to them the importance of picking their battles.  From you, they will learn to discriminate when it is important to disagree and how to express their thoughts and feelings about something that is important to them.

What are some important parent or coach behaviours to monitor?  For both parents and coaches, be watchful about insisting on perfection.  Instead, provide lots of love and encouragement for each child’s efforts to learn new skills.  Even though team sports and activities are tremendous experiences for children, parents should be careful not to completely fill-in their children’s extra-curricular time.  Children need unstructured time to discover and explore on their own or with peers.  Finally, encourage your children to develop in an area of their own interest.  As a first priority, find a teacher or coach who displays an enthusiastic and encouraging manner.  A second priority is to find someone who is an effective skill-builder and who insists on quality performance from students.

Children who are consistently encouraged and enthusiastically supported develop the perception that they are capable and that the significant others in their lives believe in them.  They learn to believe in their own ability to succeed, grow, and develop.  Their self-confidence will be the most significant benefit they will acquire from all of the time they devote to team sports!

To read more about parenting and coaching in the area of youth athletics, follow the links below: