Your child should not be defined by their sporting prowess. This statement is absolutely critical advice for parents before we start digging any deeper into the potential issue of your child being one of the weakest in their sporting group.
Our motivation for this piece came from a letter posted by a school sent to parents before the exam season.
It is vital that before we even start the process that as parents we have signed up our child for sport for the right reasons. The chances of your child becoming a pro are minimal, the chances of gaining a college scholarship are low and the chances of making a living from sport remain out of the reach of many.
So why should you sign your child up for sport?
You should be looking to find something that your child enjoys doing and hope that they fall in love with physical activity and that a lifelong participation in sport follows. That is the ‘ultimate success’ for the vast majority of children and parents or it should be.
Regardless of whether they are particularly good at sport they can gain so much from playing. They will make lots of new friends, will learn new skills, will feel part of a team, will develop communication skills and cope with lots of different environments and situations as well as hopefully having fun.
If that is the case, what is it about sport that drives us as parents into wanting so much more from the experience? Why do we spend so much time making comparisons with other children? Why do we listen to all of the other parents on the side-lines? What is it that makes us want our child to be the best at sport even if it is so obvious at that particular stage that they cannot be?
This can only be put down to human emotion running out of control. Someone once described to me about watching their child play sport ‘that it is like having my heart on the outside of my body, living every tackle, pass and goal.’ We can never change this emotional connection and nor should we want to but we need to find ways of channelling these parental emotions better to give our children the best possible sporting experience.
A key skill for a parent- when to intervene?
Firstly, we need to take a look at whose emotions are at play here. Often a child does not mind if they cannot dribble as well as the next person or that they don’t score as many goals as a teammate. As adults however we can see this as the end of the world and our protective nature kicks in.
Children probably do not see the world like adults do and it is important we do not intervene and over protect them as they will be gaining so much from these life experiences. So much can be learned from any form of failure managed in the correct way.
If your child starts to suffer and really struggle then this is a great opportunity to intervene. Do they really like what they are doing? If the answer is YES then is there anything more that can be done? For example can you organise them extra practise or dedicate a slot to playing with them in the garden each week? If the answer is ‘NO’ then maybe this sport or activity has run its course and they may be better attempting to play another sport.
If your child really enjoys playing their sport but starts being aware that people are much better then perhaps it is a perfect opportunity to talk about genetics, how we are all different and how some people have the traits of being a unique talent. The world needs these talented people and children will find their place in time and society will help do that for them. If we can teach them humility along the way and that there will always be someone better our children will have gained so much from the experience.
The one time that you should really intervene is if your child is being bullied or picked on by other players in the group because of their ability? If this cannot be sorted by the coach or organisation that you are involved with then maybe it is the right time to leave and do something else. At the end of the day we do not need to see unhappy children playing a sport. There will be no long term gain from this.
We hope that this article has painted a real world picture of how parents may feel when watching their child play sport particularly if their child is not as good as the other players. We also hope that we have given you some useful pointers in what you should be looking for as you watch training or matches to make wise and insightful choices on when to intervene in your child’s best interests. Is there a real issue present or are you just projecting your own fears? Hopefully, this article will help you in answering this.
Gordon MacLelland is the CEO and founder of Working with Parents in Sport, which supports parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. To find out more about their work please visit www.parentsinsport.co.uk.