By Raising Children Network
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Three teens in sports gear

did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Competition isn’t the main or only reason kids play sport – the top reason is to have fun.
  • They also play to improve skills, get fit, be part of a team, make friends, and enjoy some competition.
  • In Australia in 2009, 63% of children aged 5-14 and 79% of adolescents aged 15-17 regularly participated in organised sport.
Healthy minds, healthy bodies, friendships and life skills are just some of the benefits children can gain by playing sport. By teaching your child how to be a good sport from a young age, you’re helping him get the most out of being part of the game.

Effort equals success

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 controlled 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 or aggressive behaviour.

Sport also teaches your child about how important it is to try hard, even if this doesn’t always add up to a win on the field. For example, he 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. Her effort, not the result of the match, is what makes it a success or failure. If she gets to the end of a game and knows that she tried her very best, she’s 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 it be your child’s effort or the number of goals he scores?

At home
In sport as in everything else, you are your child’s most important role model. When you’re watching sport together, try to be aware of your comments. You can encourage a positive sporting attitude by encouraging and cheering on your team for their efforts, even if they’re losing badly. Abusing a losing team 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 sportspeople you admire who aren’t always winners, but who are known as good sports.

Find out what your child wants to get out of playing sport, and try not to place unnecessary pressure on your child to do well. When your child comes home after playing sport, ask her if she enjoyed her sporting activity before asking if she won. Focus on enjoyment, participation and effort, rather than 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 participate 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 often has a bigger impact on your child than the words you actually say. If your child thinks you’re angry with her for missing the shot, it could really take the fun out of things – especially if she gets that feeling week after week. It might even have a negative impact on her self-esteem if she’s getting the message that she’s ‘no good’ at sport. If you sound upbeat and as if you’re having fun, it can help her feel the same way.

Getting involved in your child’s sporting events shows him you support his participation. There are many ways for you to get involved, such as washing the netball bibs, working in the club canteen or being the team scorer.

As your child gets older
The emphasis in sport often starts to shift to a more adult, winning-focused style as children get older. This can leave some children behind. If your child isn’t enjoying her sport anymore, think about ways to keep her involved, including changing to a new team or sport. This will mean she can keep taking advantage of sport’s many opportunities.

When your child doesn’t want to play sport

If your child doesn’t want to play sport anymore, you’ll be able to help better if you know why he’s feeling that way. Your child’s reasons for dropping out might be easy to get around, or could give you ideas for other options. You might want to talk about whether he wants to withdraw from a particular sport or team, or whether he wants to withdraw from sport completely.

Some common reasons children give for dropping out of sport include:

  • not being as good as they want to be
  • having other things they want to do with their time
  • wanting to play another sport
  • not having enough fun
  • not liking the pressure
  • being bored
  • not liking the coach or other team members
  • finding the training too hard
  • losing often.

If your child does want to withdraw from sport, there are lots of fun exercise alternatives for you to consider together:

  • walking or bushwalking with parents or friends
  • classes with friends or family – for example, spin, boxing, mixed martial arts, circuit, Zumba and so on
  • gym memberships – these can offer an individual approach to exercise
  • yoga or Tai Chi – these offer a more passive and mindful approach to physical activity
  • Pilates – this provides strength and stability training
  • bike-riding
  • roller-blading
  • dancing.

Modified sport
Modified sports programs are a good alternative if your child is losing interest in sport because of poor skills or frequent losses. A modified sport is a simplified version of the adult game. For example, Tee Ball is a modified version of softball and baseball. There’s no pitcher and the ball is hit from a ‘tee’ so all players can hit it more easily and then run to first base. Other popular modified sports include Auskick (Australian Rules Football), Miniball basketball, Futsal (five-a-side soccer) and Netta netball.

Modified sports are changed in several ways to be more inclusive – particularly for younger players – and encourage participation. For example, they might have smaller court or field sizes, smaller team sizes, modified equipment, modified rules, or grading by height and weight (not age).

Some organised sports shift the focus away from competition by getting rid of competition ladders or finals, and emphasising 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 29-06-2011
  • Acknowledgements Raising Children Network would like to acknowledge Ms Jacqui Louder, sports psychologist, for contributing to this article.