Parents are usually
pleased when their child begins an organized sport. Not only is
there the excitement of games, meets, and exhibitions, but there’s
the knowledge that sports provide many benefits. Kids who
participate can learn valuable lessons about skills, perseverance,
self-discipline, meeting challenges, responsibility, sportsmanship,
teamwork, wining and losing, and doing their best.
A child chooses a sport based on his interests and his desire to
participate with friends. Parents usually help make the selection,
occasionally vetoing a sport. One father wanted his son to play
pee-wee football and excitedly took him to the first practice.
However, the other kids were much larger than the boy, and the
father quickly changed his mind.
As parents help their child pick a sport, they should keep his
abilities, interests, maturity, and age in mind. Some six- and
seven-year olds are not ready for organized sports. Parents should
consider practical issues. A sport requiring a great deal of
practice may not leave enough time for homework, play, and
relaxation. Above all, parents should help him pick a sport he’ll
enjoy and feel good about, since a successful experience with
organized sports can enhance his self- image. As his skills improve
and he learns to get along with team mates and coaches, he’ll feel
proud of his abilities. This, in turn, will reinforce his desire to
keep playing and getting better.
Of course, some children are more serious about sports than others.
While one child may view baseball as just activity, another child
may be intensely interested. He might practice on his own, have his
gear ready, and keep careful track of his game schedule.
A vital part of a successful sports experience for any child is
parental involvement. Kids like their parents to come to games and
exhibitions. When parents offer support—cheering the team on,
watching occasional practices, practicing with their child, talking
about games—a child is likely to maintain a high level of interest.
Another important aspect of organized sports is a child’s
relationship with his coach. Coaches are generally friendly,
inspiring, and fair. An effective one will bring out the best in his
players or students while setting a tone of good sportsmanship and
respect. Some coaches may mean well but lack the interpersonal or
athletic skills to do a good job. Then there are coaches so focused
on winning that they bully their players and offer a poor role
model. Parents should discuss any concerns with a coach, offering
suggestions if necessary: “I have a sensitive child who’s afraid
you’ll yell at her if she misses the ball.” “Would you let my child
compete in the backstroke? He’d really like to give it a try.”
Kids playing organized sports can face considerable pressure, not
just from aggressive coaches. Some parents are overpowering, forcing
their child to play a particular sport or speaking critically of his
abilities. At many games, they can be heard shouting harsh comments
from the sidelines: “Next time kick the ball harder!” “What’s wrong
with you? You shouldn’t have missed that.”
Of course, it can be difficult for parents to watch their child
compete. If he doesn’t do well, they may feel embarrassed: “Why
can’t he play better?” “I wish she’d remember her moves.” They may
feel unhappy if he seems nervous, distracted, or tired. It’s common
for young children to forget the rules, yell, miss the ball, throw
things in frustration, and cry.
Before criticizing, parents should consider the frustrations their
child may feel. He has to abide by rules that sometimes seem
arbitrary or unfair, and he has to get along with children who are
more or less skilled than he. He may be disappointed if he’s not a
starter or doesn’t play the whole game, and at times he has to
accept losing. A child involved in sports needs parental support and
At some point, if your child is particularly good at a sport, he may
be encouraged to compete at a more advanced level. Various sports
have select or tournament teams or classes for children with
outstanding athletic ability. Such groups offer new challenges and a
chance to demonstrate and improve skills in a highly competitive
atmosphere. While you and he may be very pleased with his acceptance
into an elite group, you may be unsure about pursuing the
Ask yourself these questions: Does he want to participate? Can he
accept the pressure he’s likely to feel from coaches and teammates?
Can he handle the competition? Does he have time for added practice?
Are you able to do the necessary driving? pay the additional fees?
give the time required?
If he does join a select team, you may see a difference in his
attitude. His emphasis may shift from having fun with a sport to
perfecting his skills, getting better, and winning. Select coaches
are often inflexible about their standards and demands, and your
child may have some trouble adjusting at first. He may complain
about his coach:
“Just because I didn’t do a perfect handstand, he made me start
over.” “I missed a couple of shots in practice and now I can’t do
the corner kicks in the game.” Stay in touch with the coach so you
can evaluate and discuss your child’s concerns.
Whether your child is involved with a highly competitive team or a
regular one, at some point he may want to quit. Don’t let him make
an impulsive decision—many children never go back to a sport once
they’ve quit. Talk to him about the pressures and his feelings. If
he’s upset over one incident, speak with his coach and try to
resolve the situation.
In most cases, have your child finish out the season, especially if
his teammates are counting on him. However, if pressures of his
sport seem to have a consistently negative effect on his family life
or schoolwork, allow him to stop a team sport mid-season or
mid-class. Even then, present his quitting as taking a break from
sports rather than ending his involvement altogether. Your child
might welcome the suggestion that next season; you and he can look
for another team so he can try again.