Our kids have a lot of pressure on them these days in the athletic arena. They have full schedules juggling sports, school, family and other activities and there is pressure for them to “specialize” at a very young age in one sport. Gone are the days that kids could play a sport per season with little overlap. Now most sports have lengthened their seasons, have multi-season schedules and many play year round. There are many levels of competition and travel teams are the norm. Many sports even for the 12-and-under age group have additional conditioning practices. In this sometimes highly competitive, intense and demanding world of youth sports, how do we as parents support our young athletes?
Keeping our eye on the goal! Not as in the score, but in the purpose of the participation and competition. This is vital. This is a process of evaluating both your and your child’s motives. Look at the goals of sport participation for children, the goals you have for your child, and the ones your child may develop for them selves. Goals vary from building self confidence, developing physical and life skills, getting exercise to looking for the college scholarship, having professional careers and fulfilling dreams. And whose dreams they are, is very important.
In general there are many very positive reasons to encourage our children to play sports. Participation in sports builds team work skills and life skills while providing healthy social influence, peer bonding and a sense of belonging. Physical exercise and skill development are also benefits while fulfilling some children’s need for an area to work on task or skill mastery. Some children love the fun, some the competition and some a combination of the two. While partaking in a sport a child’s sense of confidence grows and blooms from playing, participating, competing, belonging and achieving. Sports should develop not define a child’s self confidence.
When we consider these goals where do the goals of winning, being the best, specializing and striving for college scholarships (while still in elementary school) fit in? And how do they fit in without putting stressful pressure on the child, without risking overuse injury, and without having the child’s self confidence be solely tied to winning or losing, stats or records? What is the emotional expense or gain? Parents need to evaluate the goals- whose are they and what do they offer the child- at what expense or to what benefit. Recognizing the necessity of balance- among the goals and within our kid’s full lives of family, school, play, activities and sport is vital. Parents, with good sportsmanship and character support and model the balance.
So with honest assessment, balance and parental leadership we can help our young athletes work toward the most valuable goal- being happy, healthy, confident, growing and maturing young kids.
Christine King is Certified Coach Practitioner and Psychotherapist. With lifelong connections to sports ranging from the recreation to professional arenas she specializes in working with athletes in transition. She is a mother of three young athletes with experience and expertise in parent education and support. Her experience in athletics combined with her training and her research on violence in sports gives her unique perspective to offer messages and strategies on the interpersonal dynamics that parents and children encounter as they search for balance between personal and academic growth while playing sports. Christine works with families and athletes to define their goals, focus on success and find balance, understanding in their lives. Christine is a graduate of Providence College and the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalyis.
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