‘A Greater Game’ – bigger than sport itself!
written by Gordon MacLelland
The chances of becoming a professional or elite sportsman or women are low, there is no such thing as an U11 World Cup, so what are we really hoping as parents that our children gain from their sporting experience?
When we speak to parents about this, many will say that they are not concerned by the performance aspect of their children’s sport, but will often refer to other things, such as they would like their children to be a good teammate, work hard and develop traits such as determination and resilience.
The major problem for parents is that to help develop a lot of these skills in their children there may need to be a shift in focus, behaviour and culture around their children’s sport and at home. Actions will speak louder than words. If this is what they truly want their child to develop, then they need to celebrate those moments when their children demonstrate such qualities, as opposed to celebrating the result, the number of times their child scores or whether or not they have been selected for a particular team. Of course, these things need to be celebrated as well, but at the moment in the vast majority of cases, most parents will naturally head towards over celebrating the outcomes as opposed to celebrating the processes involved in getting there in the first place.
As a generation of parents we have become guilty of feeling that if we do not manage every part of our child’s sporting life with multiple checklists, steer them in different directions, push for them to be in the best teams or programs at the earliest ages, then they will have no chance of being successful when they are older, in what has become an extremely competitive world.
We have started to demand perfection, there is no such thing by the way, and as a result, we micro manage, problem solve and jump in to assist where it is unnecessary. We give them less time for free play as we have them in organised and structured programs, yet in a sporting context, we know that free play, discovery and exploration are vital components in building a successful foundation.
This is a far healthier model and one likely to yield far greater results. There is far less risk of burn out and overuse injuries. Your children will have the ability to problem solve and be creative and will have less chance of becoming frustrated or drop out as they are better equipped emotionally and physically to deal with more formal coaching programs.
If we are not careful, we are in danger of making our sporting children old before their time. With added pressure comes increased anxiety at a young age, the risk of mental health issues later on, particularly if we have also fallen into the trap of defining our children’s success by what they achieve on the sports field.
Early success is not an indicator of long term success. Accolades and awards at a young age are too narrow a definition of success, particularly if as parents we have overplayed our role in this by over helping and managing. Yes, there will be short term victories, but sport should be for life and sporting development for our children is a long term process. It is a marathon and not a sprint.
By their teenage years if your children are no longer having this level of success, have dropped out of sport, become bored because they have done too much of one thing, or have suffered mentally from too much pressure…..
My question to you as sporting parents is, will it have been truly worth it?
Well, not in the context above.
But sport can all be worth it, but only if we use the opportunities that sport offers to help develop the character and personality traits that set our children up for life. So the moment that the lights go down on their sport, which they inevitably will, they are happy individuals who have used sport as a vehicle for greater happiness away from the game.
How do we achieve this as parents?
Well, we need to play our part in helping develop those valuable life skills in our children. We need to help create environments for them that allow them to think, plan, develop, problem solve and experience things for themselves. We need to develop the whole person and not just the child playing their sport.
We need to identify the skills that we know will allow our children to thrive as adults. We have come up with the following list, but you may have more.
- Good decision makers
- Good communicators
- Self organised
As parents along with the help of coaches and teachers, we need to develop the habits, mindsets and skills above to provide that amazing foundation that will allow our children to thrive.
Here are a couple of practical ideas to get you started.
Do you make your child pack their own kit bag? You can always check it without them knowing…..
Do you involve them in household chores, no matter how busy they are? This is what they will face later on……..
Do you let them help with meal preparation or cooking? They need to be able to cook, understand healthy food and involving them at a younger age helps in this process.
Developing their communication skills
Do you find time to sit together for meals without tv or devices? This is vitally important, particularly during hectic schedules. As parents you need to lead the way by asking great questions and inviting them into conversation.
Do you encourage your children to shake hands, look people in the eye and talk to other adults?
Do you ask them to go and speak to teachers and coaches first if they have an issue? You can always follow it up as a parent later on….
These are just a few ideas, there are many more, but this gives you a few ideas that you could start using as a sporting parent immediately.
In the ‘Parent Zone’ in our members area, you will be able to find some more strategies and practical tips to use at home for all of the other characters and life skills mentioned above.
Sport is a wonderful thing, one we would encourage every single child and parent to be involved in. Elite sport is for a tiny proportion of people and we are asking all parents who start their child off on their sporting experience to bear this is mind and try to keep a real sense of perspective.
Sport on a recreational and social level is for life and is available to all. The positive health benefits of being involved in sport and exercise are huge. If during the process, you have managed to think beyond the game, equipped your child with character and life skills during the experience, it will have all been worth it. Perhaps, without even realising you will have given your children the greatest gift of all!