By Raising Children Network
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Kids playing soccer for sport

did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Competition isn’t the main or only reason kids play sport. Kids play to have fun, be with friends, improve skills, get fit and be part of a team.
  • Children aged 5-18 years should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
Kids and sport – it’s a great mix. Playing sport helps kids build healthy minds, healthy bodies, friendships and life skills. By teaching your child how to be a good sport from early on, you help him get the most out of being part of the game.

Kids and sport: trying their best

One minute your child is racing for the finish line, shooting for goal or hitting a six. The next minute she can’t believe she was pipped at the post, missed the net or got caught on the boundary.

The great thing about junior sport is that your child gets the chance to experience these emotional highs and lows in a safe, appropriate and structured environment. Sport can give your child the chance to learn about being part of a team, winning well, bouncing back from a loss and coping with unpleasant experiences such as injury.

Sport also teaches your child about how important it is to try hard, even if this doesn’t always mean winning. For example, your child might do a great job of running and kicking the ball, but his soccer team might still lose the match. It’s all about how you and your child see the experience.

In the end, your child’s effort is the only thing that’s completely within her control. The effort, not the result of the match, is what makes it a success or failure. If your child gets to the end of a game and has tried her very best, she has been successful.

Encouraging a positive sporting attitude

Your child loves to please you, make you proud and gain your approval. You can send your child a powerful message about what makes you proud. Will you be proud because your child tried his hardest, or because of the number of goals he scored?

At home
You are your child’s most important role model. This includes in sport.

When you’re watching sport together, it can help to be aware of your comments. You can encourage a positive sporting attitude by cheering on your team for their efforts, even if they’re losing badly. Abusing a team, umpire or anyone else for a loss can send a negative message to your child.

It might also be an idea to point out and praise athletes who don’t come first. You can talk to your child about how hard the athlete tried, despite the result. You might like to give some examples of athletes you admire who don’t always win, but are known as good sports.

It can help to find out what your child wants to get out of playing sport. When your child comes home after playing sport, ask her if she enjoyed herself before asking if she won. Focus on enjoyment, participation and effort, rather than on winning and losing.

On the sideline
When you go to sporting events, your behaviour has a big impact on your child. Whether that impact is positive or negative depends on how you behave, speak, sound and take part on the sidelines.

For example, think about how your child might feel if you shout something like ‘Oh, how could you miss that?’ or ‘Can’t you run faster?’

Compare those feelings to how he might feel if you say, ‘Great shot – better luck next time!’ or ‘Keep going, mate – you’re almost there’.

Your tone and body language often have a big impact on your child too. If your child thinks you’re angry with her for missing a shot, it can take the fun out of sport. It can also affect your child’s self-esteem, if it makes her think she’s not good at sport.

But if you look and sound like you’re positive and having fun, this can help your child feel the same way.

Getting involved in your child’s sporting events shows him you support him. There are many ways you can get involved – for example, washing the netball bibs, working in the club canteen or being the scorer.

As your child gets older
As children get older, the emphasis in sport shifts to a more adult, winning-focused style. This can leave some children behind.

If your child isn’t enjoying her sport anymore, you can help her think about ways to stay involved – for example, changing to a new team or sport. This might mean she can still get the benefits of sport.

When your child doesn’t want to play sport

If your child doesn’t want to play sport anymore, it can help to find out why he’s feeling this way.

Your child’s reasons for dropping out might be easy to overcome. Or they might give you ideas for other options. You might want to talk about whether she wants to get out of a particular sport or team, or wants to stop sport completely.

Some common reasons children give for stopping sport include:

  • not being as good as they want to be, or feeling they’re not as good as others
  • wanting to play another sport or do something else with their time
  • not having enough fun or being bored
  • being forced to play and not liking the pressure
  • not liking the coach or other players or finding the training too hard
  • not getting as much playing time as other children
  • losing often.

If your child does want to stop competitive sport, there are lots of other fun ways he can stay physically active. Examples include:

  • walking or bushwalking with parents or friends
  • youth groups – for example, Scouts or Guides
  • bike riding, skateboarding or rollerblading
  • dancing
  • beach activities, like snorkelling or bodyboarding
  • flying kites
  • gong to the gym (for teenagers).

Modified sport
Many popular sports in Australia have modified versions for children. This can give children a pathway into adult sport through a simpler, easier, safer version of the game. For example, they might have a smaller court or field size, smaller team sizes, different equipment, different rules, or group children by their size and not their age.

For example, tee ball is a modified version of softball and baseball. There’s no pitcher, and the ball is hit from a stand (‘tee’) so it is easier to hit. Other popular modified sports include In2CRICKET, Aussie Hoops basketball, NetSetGO netball, Come and Try Rugby, and Auskick football.

Some organised sports shift the focus away from competition by getting rid of ranks or finals. This helps to emphasise participation, rather than results. They might use participation certificates rather than end-of-season trophies, and ask coaches and umpires to take a positive approach.

  • Last updated or reviewed 21-07-2015
  • Acknowledgements This article was written in collaboration with Jacqui Louder, sports psychologist.