It is a critical time of the year for children in the junior sporting scene – both physically and mentally – with representative trials and commitments, as well as Cross Country and other events in full swing.
According to Townsville-based Peak Performance Psychology director Dr Joann Lukins – who works with professional athletes – knowing how to cope with pressure and disappointment is crucial in encouraging children to continue to participate and enjoy their involvement in sport. However, this pressure can sometimes not only come from within, but also from parents.
“Parents can play a strong and positive influence on their child’s sporting experience; they need to be their ‘soft place to land’,” Dr Lukins said. “Sometimes the emphasis is placed on performing well, and parents can push their children too much, without realising these themes and values placed onto the child can be psychologically damaging”.
Research from Flinders University shows that children do not thrive and prosper in environments where sport becomes too serious, as fun and anticipation are removed. The study deemed ‘not fun’ as the most common reason children drop out of sporting activities.
So, how do we raise good sports?
Dr Lukin’s top tips & guidelines are:
- Keep sport fun: Children are more likely to drop out of a sport when it stops being fun. Keep fun on the radar.
- What’s the agenda? Ask yourself why you want your child to play and why they want to play. Be aware that your goals may be different and factor that into your decision making.
- Process over outcome: Winning comes from focusing on the process and enjoying the journey. ‘Outcome’ conversations can become a problem and source of stress.
- You are a role model: Be physically active. Show composure and poise on the sidelines. To have a good sport, you need to be one – for you and your child.
- Remember who the coach is: Don’t coach your child. Over-coaching can lead to mistakes and cautious performance. Wherever possible, defer any coaching questions back to the coach.
- Self-esteem: It shouldn’t be about wins or losses. Esteem is best enhanced through effort – something within a child’s control.
- Your initial reaction is important: Smile and ask “Did you have fun?”, follow it up with “I love to watch you play”.
- Be the soft place to land: Sport comes with risk. Anytime you put yourself out there in a competitive environment, you run the risk of failing. Failing is OK. Failing is an opportunity to build resilience. Use empathy over sympathy wherever possible.