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 like 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.
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?
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’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 are known as good sports.
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 feeling positive and having fun, this can help your child feel the same way. At the end of the match, you can even tell your child how much fun you had watching him play.
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 his sport anymore, you can help him think about ways to stay involved – for example, changing to a different team, coach, sport or physical activity. This might mean he can still get the physical and social benefits of sport without the focus on competition and the pressure to win.
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 she’s feeling this way.
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, finding the training too hard or not getting as much playing time as other children
- losing often.
Other options for physical activity
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 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, rollerblading or kite flying
- going to the gym (for teenagers)
- umpiring or coaching younger children.
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’s easier to hit. Other popular modified sports include T20 Blast cricket, Aussie Hoops basketball, NetSetGO netball, Try Rugby Kids Pathway, and Auskick football.
Some organised sports shift the focus away from competition by getting rid of contact rules, ranks or finals. This helps to emphasise participation, rather than results, and reduces the risk of injury. They might use participation certificates rather than end-of-season trophies, and ask coaches and umpires to take a positive approach.