So many of my favourite childhood memories involve sport in some way, shape or form.
Kickabouts down the park, beach cricket on holidays, beating the Grammar School in the cup final with my parents watching from the stand - all experiences so fresh in the memory I can almost reach out and grab them.
I was lucky enough to be encouraged to play any sport I could as a kid and, now that I’m a parent myself, I want my children to love playing sport as much as I did then... and still do now.
Every parent wants what is best for their kids, but what’s the best way help our kids enjoy their sport and to keep them coming back for more?
Here are five golden rules that I think we could all do well to stick to:
1. Support and encourage
It sounds simple, but just showing an active interest in your child’s sporting endeavours can make a huge difference to how much they get out of it. Parents are always the first people that kids look to for support and encouragement, so show them that you’re interested, encourage them to take part and get behind them in every way you can.
If possible, stay and support from the sidelines, rather than just dropping them off before the game and collecting them afterwards. There’s no better way to support your child playing sport than by being there to watch them.
2. Don't pressure your child to play
Whilst encouraging your child to play sport is a good thing, putting pressure on them to play is not. Just because playing a certain sport - or for a particular team - was something you enjoyed, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child will feel the same. If they do then great, but if you can tell it’s not something they’re enjoying - and you know your child better than anyone - then don’t force them to play.
Find out why they’re not enjoying it and think of solutions to that problem, or try other options. Don't live your own dreams through your child. Sport is supposed to be fun, especially for kids, so make sure your child plays for their reasons, not yours.
3. Leave the coaching to the coach
Being there on the touchline to support your child is important but, once you’re there, save your vocal chords for support and let the coach do the coaching. As covered in a recent Teamer blog, hearing multiple voices instructing from the sideline can be overwhelming for a child. Your instructions might not match those of the coach, so don’t confuse your child with contradictory messages.
More importantly, the best way for kids to learn is to play the game for themselves. Let them try things out, express themselves, make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. It’s not Playstation for parents, so don’t give them a running commentary on what they should be doing. It won’t help your child learn and will make the game less enjoyable for them.
Finally, speak to the coach and find out what they are working towards and how they are trying to develop their players. It’s no good you applauding a hoofed clearance from the back if the coach is encouraging the team to play their way out.
4. Set the example
Your behaviour on the touchline will go a long way to set the tone for your child’s on the pitch, so make sure you set the right example. Win, lose or draw, respect the opposition, respect the referee’s decisions - you know deep down they are just doing their best - and don’t be abusive to anyone.
Don’t shout and moan or criticise your own child or any of their team mates - it won’t help. Keep the feedback positive and applaud good play, even if it might be the opposition’s from time to time - remember they are kids too!
5. Focus on performances not results
Win, lose or draw, try to focus on how your child played and what they learned from the game rather than the result itself. It’s important to enjoy victories when they come - we all like to win after all - but don’t make them the only marker of success. Similarly, don’t dwell on defeats - you can bet your child will get over it pretty quickly, so don’t let it ruin your weekend.
Whatever the outcome of the game, talk to your child about it, show you are interested, ask what they learned, what went well from their point of view and what they might do differently next week. Most importantly, ask them if they enjoyed themselves.
There’s always another game around the corner and it won’t be long until the fun starts all over again.
We all want what’s best for our kids and sometimes emotion can get the better of us all, but we should always try to remember that our child’s involvement in sport revolves around them, not us.
So let’s try to remember these few golden rules and give our kids the best opportunity to fall in love with sport just like we did.