In our results-now culture, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that more is better. We’re simply investing in our child’s future. 2-a-day practices. Private lessons. What about that speed and agility coach that Suzy down the street has her 7-year-old seeing? More, more, more! It has got to be better, right?
We get caught up in the idea that we need to give our kids every opportunity in order for them to succeed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this line of thought, but what we don’t realize is the tremendous amount of pressure we are putting on our children at such a young age. This can be detrimental and cause our little superstar to get burnt out before their career even starts. Or worse-we can create a negative relationship with health and wellness in general.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to create an environment that fosters a true love of sport and how we can empower our kids to take charge of their health.
THE BENEFITS OF SPORTS
It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. The benefits are far-reaching.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who participate in sports have better cardiovascular health, do better in school, and have lower chances of developing mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Critical life skills like discipline, leadership, commitment, and teamwork are also developed through sport. These valuable life lessons transfer to all aspects of life.
Children primarily learn through play. And playing is fun! It’s why we get into sports in the first place. Have you ever seen a child having the time of their life, recreating a homerun or a buzzer-beater, pretending like they just won the championship? (I have. That’s a typical Tuesday in the Seaver household). But as children grow older, play gets replaced with the pressure to succeed. If we make the jump from fun to pressure at an early age, we are negatively impacting our child’s relationship with sports, which can leak into other aspects of life.
THE IMPACTS OF PRESSURE
It is important to remember that our kids are just that–they’re kids. They are still developing. It’s our job as parents to build and support healthy habits when it matters most.
Stress and Burnout
Too much stress on our young athletes may lead to anxiety, depression, or other unwanted ailments. Kids, like all of us, crave connection. Observe and listen to them. Active listening works wonders. You can tell when kids are having fun or if they are just going through the motions.
-Are they dreading going to practice or making excuses to skip it?
-Are they excited about an upcoming match, or have they stopped talking about their sport altogether?
-Are they showing any non-verbal cues?
We, as parents, want to foster an environment that allows a child to speak up when things are not going well. We want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. The more comfortable the environment, the clearer their communication will be. Allow them to refuse by empowering them to say no.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Parents and coaches should be involved as much as possible but in a healthy manner. Positive experiences should be prioritized over winning. We want athletics to provide a safe and controlled environment for kids to make mistakes and where they can learn to overcome them. These invaluable life skills help develop the leaders of tomorrow in many fields–not just on the field.
Stripped down, all athletics are just games. They’re not high stakes, life and death, matches-especially on the kids’ circuit. Let’s remember this when we get caught up in a bad call or begin taking things too seriously. At the crux of it all, sports are meant to be enjoyable for our little ones.
As parents, we should strive to provide unconditional rather than outcome-based support. Ask your kids questions like, “What’d you think about the game?” rather than focusing on wins or losses. Provide encouragement and positive feedback. Do other activities. Help your kids develop an identity outside of sport. Foster their passions and work to promote intrinsic motivation. Lastly, integrate play-it’s supposed to be fun!
Kevin is a former collegiate baseball player turned Personal Trainer and Fitness Consultant to a global corporate wellness company. He is passionate about fitness and the importance of a holistic relationship with health/wellness. He loves anything outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and chasing his hyperactive 3-year-old (all of which oddly correlate with each other). To learn more, reach out to him at [email protected]
Want more? Check out this article, 8 Constructive Ways to Push your Child in Youth Sports!