How many sports did you play as a kid? My list starts with, swimming, dancing, soccer, acrobatics, trampolining, volleyball, netball and touch football, it’s never ending.
The list of sports I played as a kid [Source]
I was never a big fan of sports, don’t get me wrong, I loved some of them, and others I did just to hang out with my friends. Any good old American teen drama will serve up the ultimate sports dad (kind of like a stage mum equivalent) pressuring his son into a hectic college scholarship – but is that a reality for kids now?
It’s no debate that participating in team sports or extra-curricular activities is beneficial for kids, and adults too. Sport develops social skills, rule following and conflict resolution as well as decreasing anxiety, improving moods, concentration and organisation – oh and it’s good for your cardiovascular health! Every year parents feel more pressure for their kids to succeed, placing a large strain on children’s performance anxiety and identity. Parents feel like they have to make their child the best, champions and undefeated, because the alternative is… failure.
Me after one training session. [Source]
It isn’t failure. When little kids hear their parents one-upping each other about who is more successful, what message is being sent to these young athletes? You’re only worthwhile when you win. There’s a fine line between doing something because you love it and doing it because you’re good at it. External cues such as praise and focusing on performance shifts the perspective of the sport and why kids are doing it, usually resulting in hatred.
When I was little, I started dancing, I wasn’t great, but I was pretty good my first year. I won my first competition, and boy did that feel good. Then I went on to win my second, look at me go! My mum set some pretty big goals for me, and I was so excited – until I didn’t win my next competition. From the moment I stood on that podium, the only thing I was rewarded for was winning. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realise life isn’t about winning, but do I still dance because I love it, or do I do it because I’m still chasing that top spot?
A game is just that, simply a game. The goal is to stay fit, have fun and develop essential skills, not to win at all costs. With more youth sports being played, the cost of hiring the best coaches, private lessons and luxury travel is more competitive than ever. Does this mean only the elite, can be elite?
Although children don’t commonly feel these pressures when they are happening, psychological bruises can occur later in life. The perceived pressure to for adolescents to simply participate in sports is highly related to the fear of being evaluated. Although parents may not yell, force or express these feelings, the interpretation of internal languages can have an effect leading into adulthood. Low self-esteem is a common occurrence in those subjected to performance pressure possibly leading to alcoholism, drug abuse and hatred if the sport is continued in a professional league. So, what can parents do to ensure we enjoy sport, make social connections and build essential skills along the way?
One of the most enjoyable reasons for youth participant in sport is linked to a positive involvement from parents. Imagine how much friendlier sporting matches would be if you didn’t have parents yelling down the sidelines at not only their child, but the entire team. Coaches believe parents should support their children emotionally and provide tangible support, not give coaching cues or build their ego.
When you have a coach, and a parent (coach). [Source]
Through focusing on participation, children develop qualities of leadership and empathy through teamwork. Have you ever seen kids helping one another master a skill, these are the qualities that sport develops and should be encouraged. Winning and losing shouldn’t be the aim of the game, learning from mistakes and understanding sportsmanship is an essential lesson for children both on and off the field.
Aw kids are so sweet (sometimes) [Source]
Reflecting on my time as a wannabe champion, focused and competitive child, I’ve realised most people miss the point, I did too. Realistically, the chances of me becoming a star athlete isn’t very big, so it’s okay to mess up or have a bad day. Twelve years later I’m shaping little minds by teaching the sport I grew up doing, and that’s so much more rewarding than any trophy or medal.