Don’t Get Too Serious About Your Child’s Sport
“It’s a kid’s athletics carnival, NOT the Olympics.”
If you want your child to come out of their sporting experience feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude about sport, remember the above words whenever you venture to a kids’ sports event.
Keeping children’s sport in perspective is an important skill for adults to have. Unfortunately, this perspective is sometimes lost, seen in the idiotic and embarrassing behaviour by some adults who really should know better. You might have seen them – abusive adults storming threateningly up to startled officials to lodge a loud protest; adults roaring at the top of their lungs for a child to “PUSH!!!” as the child struggles down the home straight. These are only two of many examples.
Luckily, such scenes are reasonably isolated. But it is astounding that some adults continue to act in this way, despite the results being so amazingly predictable over the years – if such behaviour continues, the child concerned, regardless of their talent and potential – will eventually drop out of the sport due to a loss of enjoyment. It is seen again and again. Or if the child doesn’t drop out, they will certainly not enjoy what they are doing.
Is this what we want from our children’s sporting experience? Is this what we are aiming for when we register a child in a sport for the first time? Any adult who thinks that they know better “because their child is a budding Olympian”, and that there is no room for fun if their child is to “become a champion” . . . it’s time to WAKE UP!!
A child is not likely to become a champion if they don’t love the sport.
But remember, you don’t necessarily have to be overtly abusive or act like a clown to ruin a child’s sporting experience. Simple things you say or do can slowly drain the fun out of children’s sport. Unfortunately, you don’t often realise until it is too late. Simply making a few minor adjustments to your approach can make a world of difference.
There are some warning signs that an adult may be getting a little too serious about their child’s sporting involvement. Some are listed below. If you want to be an awesome sports parent, you have to avoid these behaviours.
(NOTE: The younger the child is, the more urgent and severe are the “warning signs”).
Level 1 Warning Signs:
- You seriously use the word “elite” to describe a kid. There is no such thing as an elite kid.
- You talk with other parents about kids like the kids are professional sportspeople.
- After your child competes, your first question is “Did you win?” rather than “Did you have fun?”
- You are an expert on the results of all of your child’s competitors.
- You focus on your child’s competitors rather than teaching your child to compete against themselves.
- You define success in terms of winning and losing, rather than realizing that there are many other ways to be a winner in sport.
- You can’t accurately answer this question: “Why is your child participating in the sport?”
If you recognize any of the Level 1 Warning Signs in yourself start to re-think how you are acting. If you catch yourself in time and back up a little, you’ll be ok. (And so will your child).
Level 2 Warning Signs:
- You try to bribe your child to perform well with promises of gifts, money, treats, etc.
- You treat your child’s competitors like the enemy, the “bad guy” or someone to be disliked.
- You feel overly depressed when you child doesn’t perform well.
- You go really over-the-top when your child does perform well e.g. Embarrassing fist pumping, dancing, “woo-hooing”, etc.
- During a race, you run alongside the track clutching a stop watch, as if you are in the race yourself.
- After a competition you tell your child what they did wrong and what they should have done instead.
- You get super serious about their training and preparation.
- Your child trains for one sport, and nothing else, for 12 months of the year.
- Your main aim is to train your pre-pubertal child to be an Olympian…and you seriously believe that they will become an Olympian.
If you recognize any of the Level 2 Warning Signs in yourself, you need to stop and seriously re-think the effect you are having on your child’s sporting experience.
Level 3 Warning Signs:
- You respond with disgust, anger, and withdrawal of love, when you child doesn’t perform up to your expectations.
- You degrade, embarrass or humiliate your child.
- You yell at your child for making an error.
- You degrade, embarrass or humiliate your child’s competitors – publicly or privately.
- You use guilt or emotional blackmail in an attempt to motivate your child.
- You get violent – physically or verbally at your child’s sporting event.
- You abuse or harass officials or coaches.
- You cheer the mistakes of your child’s competitors.
- You yell, scream, sledge, or use profane language.
If you recognize any of the Level 3 Warning Signs in yourself, you’ve totally lost the plot and deserve the tag of being an “Ugly Sporting Parent”. You are a genuine, first class sport rager. Grow up. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to start on the path to becoming a really awesome sporting parent. It’s not that hard really. Below are a few tips to get started.
7 Tips For Being an Awesome Sports Parent:
1. Support & encourage your child
Support and encourage your child to follow sport in a way and to the extent that they want. Gentle guidance is acceptable, but avoid forcing participation and involvement.
2. Find out why your child is involved in the sport
It is their sporting experience, not yours. Don’t assume their motivations for being involved. If you fully understand why they are involved, it is much more likely that you can positively facilitate their experience. Actually ask them why they do the sport, what they like about it and even what they don’t like. Sometimes their answers will surprise you and may make you re-assess your attitude to, and role in, their involvement.
3. Let your child know that you are proud of him or her
Tell kids that you are proud of them . Actually say this to them. Don’t assume that they know. And don’t just say this when they win or perform well. Tell them that you were proud of their effort or their attitude regardless of any result. Tell them that you love watching them play. Tell them that they should be proud of themselves.
4. Relax and calmly watch your child compete
Don’t go over the top with your spectating or supporting efforts. Too much cheering can embarrass them. Too much angst can make them nervous. Any type of anger or aggression squeezes all the fun out of the game. Even if you are not relaxed or calm, try to look like you are. Enjoy watching your child play in the moment.
5. Praise your child’s efforts
Highlight your child’s effort, hard work, tenacity, good sportsmanship, etc, rather than the results. If a child gets a good result, link your praise to the positive actions they took that contributed to the result.
6. Learn about your child’s sport and show an interest in being involved
Get involved, but not too involved. Show interest by being there or having some involvement by helping out but don’t dominate your child’s sport. Avoid being over-bearing. They sometimes need space to grow and sport is a great environment where they can learn to stand on their own two feet. Learn a bit about the sport so that you can ask the right questions and enjoy quality conversations about their involvement and experiences. Ask them to teach you what they have learned.
7. Have realistic expectations of your child’s capabilities
Your kid might be the fastest kid in the district – great! But keep things in perspective. Keep your ego, and theirs, in check. Early success in a sport is not necessarily a sign of ongoing success. Be aware of the effects that early and late maturation can have on children’s sports results. Avoid creating an environment in which the child feels under pressure to always perform. Understand how difficult it is to become a elite sportsperson and how many things need to go right for this to occur. Allow them to dream big but also encourage a well-rounded life so that sport is not the only thing that they have.
What does awesome sports parenting mean to you?
I would love to hear if you have any tips about how to be an awesome sports parent. Are there any other warning signs that an adult is getting too serious about kids sports? Let me know by leaving a reply/comment.
Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Anchor or via email.