Kids and sport: trying their best
Sport can be good for children in many ways.
For example, sport gives children the chance to:
- enjoy physical activity, develop physical skills and build fitness
- learn about teamwork, cooperation and other life skills
- make new friends outside of school
- build resilience in childhood and resilience in the pre-teen and teenage years.
Sport can teach children that trying hard is more important than winning or losing. That’s because your child can control how hard they try at sport, but they can’t control the result. The effort, not the result, is what makes sport a success or failure.
Being a good sporting role model
You are your child’s most important role model, and you can be a good sporting role model for your child.
For example, whether you’re watching sport with your child, watching your child play, or playing yourself, 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. Putting down or abusing a team, umpire or anyone else can send a negative message to your child.
It’s also good 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 who are known as good sports.
And when your child comes home after playing sport, ask your child whether they had fun rather than asking whether they won or lost. Focus on enjoyment, participation, effort and being a good sport.
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 their hardest, or because of the number of goals they scored?
Being positive and encouraging at junior sport
Your behaviour at sport has a big influence on your child. Whether that influence 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 your child might feel if you say, ‘Great shot – better luck next time!’ or ‘Keep going – you’re almost there’.
Your tone and body language often have a big influence on your child too. If your child thinks you’re angry with them for missing a shot, it can take the fun out of sport. It can also affect your child’s self-esteem, if it makes them think they’re not good at sport.
But if you look and sound like you’re feeling positive and having fun, this can help your child feel the same way. At the end of the match, you can tell your child how much fun you had watching them play.
By being positive and encouraging on the sidelines, you’re helping to create a good junior sport experience for your child and their team mates. But other people’s behaviour can affect your child’s experience of junior sport too. If your child sees any negative or abusive behaviour on the sidelines, it’s important to talk with your child about it afterwards. Check in with how your child is feeling, and explain why that behaviour isn’t OK.
Getting involved in your child’s sporting events shows you support them. There are many ways you can get involved – for example, coaching or managing the team, washing the team shirts, bringing the oranges, working in the club canteen or scoring the game.
Modified sports for children
Many popular sports in Australia have modified versions for children.
These modifications emphasise participation and skill development, rather than results. They can give children a pathway into adult sport through simpler, easier, safer versions of the game. And they can be a good way for younger children to try new sports. Modifications can reduce the risk of injury too.
Modifications often include smaller courts or fields, smaller teams, modified equipment, different rules, or options to group children by size rather than age.
Popular modified sports in Australia include tee ball, Cricket Blast, Aussie Hoops basketball, NetSetGO netball, Try Rugby Kids Pathway, and Auskick football.
Some organised sports also shift the focus away from competition. For example, they might use participation certificates rather than end-of-season trophies, avoid rankings, and ask coaches and umpires to take a positive approach.
Children with disability can do many physical activities and sports. Many sports have been modified so that children with disability can fully participate and be included.
Handling changes in sport as children get older
As children get older, the emphasis in sport shifts to a more adult, winning-focused style. Some children enjoy the competition. Other children might prefer other styles of physical activity.
If your child isn’t enjoying sport anymore, you can help them think about ways to stay involved – for example, changing to a different team, coach, sport or physical activity. This might mean they can still get the physical and social benefits of sport without the focus on competition and the pressure to win.
When children don’t want to play sport
Some children just don’t like sport or other organised physical activities, and that’s OK. Other children want to play but need help to learn that they can enjoy sport.
Here are common reasons for children not wanting to play, plus ways you can help.
Worries about being ‘good enough’
Your child might worry about not being good enough to play sport or not being as good as others.
To help, you could encourage your child to:
- focus on what they do well rather than comparing themselves to others
- try a sport with friends – sometimes having fun doing sport with a friend can help children feel more confident
- practise skills at home, at the park or when they’re with family and friends
- improve in small, reachable ways like running to catch up with another player or dancing for one song longer – this can help your child see and enjoy progress and gain confidence.
It’s best to find sports or physical activities that suit your child’s likes and abilities. You can help your child find the right activity by giving them opportunities to try different sports, physical activities and games.
Children can feel out of place if they’re bigger or smaller than other children, or if they’re less muscular or less skilled.
It might help to let your child know that children of all shapes and sizes can enjoy sport. Most importantly, you can help by finding and building a supportive and safe environment that welcomes your child’s efforts.
Difficult or over-competitive environment
Your child might not like the coach, find the training too hard or not get as much playing time as other children. And a very competitive environment or pressure to perform could put your child off.
Clubs or sports that are more relaxed, offer more support or are less competitive might be a better fit for your child. You can talk with other parents, team coaches or club members to find out what the local club or team environment is like.
Physical activity options for children who don’t want to play sport
If your child doesn’t want to play sport, there are many other fun ways they can stay physically active. Examples include:
- walking or bushwalking with family and friends
- beach activities like snorkelling or bodyboarding
- youth groups – for example, Scouts or Guides
- land conservation and emergency service groups
- dancing, bike riding, skateboarding or scooting
- going to the gym (for teenagers).