Tips For Parents: Understanding Kids and Sports
© Winning Edge Psychological Services, LLC
Children participate in sport for a number of different reasons. Research conducted over decades by numerous sport psychologists (Gould, Weinberg, Murphy, Brustad, Bredemeier, Shields and Andersen) has consistently ranked the following reasons that children state for being in sports:
To have fun!
To learn new skills.
To be with friends and make new friends.
To belong to a group/team and be accepted.
To experience competition and challenge themselves.
To experience success and winning.
To exercise and be healthy.
Having fun, learning new skills or improving current skills and being social have consistently been the top three reasons children participate in sport. Winning is an aspect that children mention, but it usually falls between 6th to 10th in surveys of children’s motivations. If winning is the dominant theme of your team, home, or child you probably need to take inventory of your own need to win.
As parents and coaches our job is multi-faceted and we wear many hats. Overall we are here to enjoy our children, foster their growth, enhance their lives, facilitate fun, help them learn and keep them safe. Sport is one area that we can introduce children to which may help them experience many of the aforementioned things.
Parents often contact me concerned about their son or daughter; worried they are no longer having fun, that their child seems “stressed” about sports, that coaching seems too intense for the age level, that their teammates are focused only on winning, about their spouse who is pressuring their child, and about fears of their child being injured at practice or competition as the intensity seems to be too much for the age group.
In working with athletes, parents, families, coaches and teams over the years I have learned many things from all of them. Here are a few tips in helping your child and team enjoy sports, grow, improve, compete and have some fun!
Encourage your child to participate in sports without pressure (from you or a coach)
Understand what your child wants from sports and be their biggest healthy fan
Keep winning and success in perspective and help your child do the same
Help encourage healthy values, respecting opponents and competition
Recognize that being social is part of being on a team
Don’t confuse winning with self worth, love them unconditionally
Recognize that effort is equal to or more important than outcome
Foster play and having fun – that is the #1 reason they participate in sport
Recognize if the fun is gone, something is wrong
Skill development and growth is important. Help your athlete “see” their growth by telling them how you have seen them grow
Let you child’s sport experience be theirs
A savvy parent (who also happens to be a sport psychologist) gave a suggestion at a conference several years ago which has stuck with me. When your child is finished with practice or a game and you are talking on the sidelines or in the car do not ask them how they played. Instead, ask them did they have fun? It’s interesting when we change the focus of the conversation from performance and outcome to fun. Children tend to talk more and you will hear about how they did – but it is framed within the context of enjoying sports.
For more information on positive parenting and coaching in sport the following organizations offer articles, ideas, programs and great websites:
Positive Coaching Alliance
National Alliance for Youth Sport
Australian Institute for Sport
United States Olympic Programs
University of Michigan Sport Psychology