Every year there are headlines about parents behaving badly at children’s sports. It’s not confined to one sport. Aussie rules, rugby league, soccer and basketball are just some of the sports where parents’ behaviour has over-stepped the mark in recent times.
Children’s sport has an amazing capacity to bring out the very worst in some parents. It seems that inside even the most mild-mannered person lurks a “sports monster” that emerges when their children hit the sports field.
This sports monster shows itself when parents argue with officials and umpires, disagree with coaches and drive children to the point of distraction with their well-meaning advice.
So if you, like me, have found it hard to contain yourself when watching children’s sports, help is at hand. I’ve devised a ten point plan to help you keep the monster on a leash, and lower the stress levels for you, your family and everyone else involved in your children’s sports.
1. Don’t allow sport to dominate your family-life or your child’s life. Insist on a balance between different areas and encourage your child to vary his or her interests.
2. Make sure you are a neutral observer at games and events involving your children. Take an interest and be encouraging but don’t add pressure by having too much stake in the end result or your child’s performance.
3. Focus on effort, improvement, enjoyment and participation rather than on the results. Your child is learning, so winning is not the aim of the game at this stage. Yes, they do keep a score but you don’t have to focus on that.
4. Be positive with all your comments about performance. Talk to children if they display poor sportsmanship. Parent approval is very important to children, and linked to their continued participation.
5. Remember that sport teaches children many life lessons, such as how to work together, solve problems and also how to accept the disappointment of defeat. Sport is a great character-builder for people of all ages.
6. Encourage children to talk about sport, but don’t force them to communicate if they don’t want to.
7. Get to know your child’s coach and understand that his or her job is to teach skills, develop positive attitudes and promote personal development. Winning should be further down on their list of priorities as a coach.
8. Take an interest in other participants, not just your child. By removing the focus from your child you are more likely to keep a balanced view of sport.
9. Model good sportsmanship and other desirable attitudes for your child and insist that he or she acts in a sportsmanlike manner at all times, both on and off the field.
10. Emphasise fun rather than winning, learning rather than perfection and teamwork rather than individual performance. If you want your child to excel in a particular sport he or she must enjoy their participation. Many children need to get more from their sport than just trophies and ribbons to keep them participating over the long-term.
This ten-point plan is easy to read, but hard to put into practice, particularly when your child is about to make the winning score. You may say that you’re not fussed, but deep inside, you are cheering for your child to do well.
Most parents would be proud for their child, if they scored the winning goal or made the winning play. But it’s a matter of keeping your perspective, and remembering that participating in sport is to benefit children, rather than parents.
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