Cheering them on is fine, but teaching them to find inspiration within themselves is golden. What keeps most children returning to a sport is if it's enjoyable, win or lose — and it's a parental and coaching obligation to ensure games and practices ... You signed your kids up for organized sport in hopes of keeping them active. But there's more to keeping kids in the game than buying gear and driving them to practices. According to McGill University's Enrique Garcia, whose area of expertise includes motivation in youth sport and physical activity, a parent's job goes far beyond chauffeur and banker.
The dos and don'ts of motivating young athletes by Jill Barker
Cheering them on is fine, but teaching them to find inspiration within themselves is golden. What keeps most children returning to a sport is if it's enjoyable, win or lose — and it's a parental and coaching obligation to ensure games and practices ... You signed your kids up for organized sport in hopes of keeping them active.
But there's more to keeping kids in the game than buying gear and driving them to practices. According to McGill University's Enrique Garcia, whose area of expertise includes motivation in youth sport and physical activity, a parent's job goes far beyond chauffeur and banker.
"The very best parents can do is to encourage and nurture the youngsters' ability to generate motivation from within and for themselves," Garcia said. "This ability fuels the natural motivation to play sports." Following Garcia's advice, here are tips for parents who want to instil a lifelong love of sport in their children.
Be a fan, not a coach. A little helpful advice here and there is OK, especially when the child seeks help, but kids should never have to choose between the coach's game plan and the parent's game plan.
Let your child initiate any pre- or post-game chatter and reduce the emphasis on the outcome of the game and who scored what goal. Comment instead on a great pass, a good play or an area of specific improvement, be it during individual or team play.
Put sports in perspective by having conversations that revolve around more than your child's athletic pursuits and the progress of his or her team during your drives to and from games and practices.
Let them sample. Researchers into youth sport have designated the ages of six to 12 as the sampling years when kids should be encouraged to try a variety of sports.
This type of athletic diversification flies in the face of the current trend of early sport specialization, yet there is some data suggesting that children who specialize later in life tend to stick with sports longer.
Diversifying your child's athletic experiences has other benefits, including: they acquire more skills, gain an appreciation of other sports and are more likely to develop skills in sports that they can pursue for life.
It is also worth noting that participation in sports doesn't always have to be at the competitive level. Kids can play sports in gym class or in purely unstructured formats like swimming at the cottage, playing soccer in the school yard or shinny at the local rink where fun, not competition, is the primary focus.
Be a role model. Kids model their parents' behaviour, so it's up to you to pass along important lessons like good sportsmanship, responsibility to the team and respect for the coach. These lessons are learned not just from verbal cues but from visual ones as well. Kids are excellent at reading body language so make sure your actions match your words.
Keep any comments about a coach or another player out of earshot of your child and don't second-guess the coach's authority or decision-making in front of your young athlete. And above all, model good sportsmanship during your own games, which speaks volumes to children who are watching.
Keep it fun. A 1992 Michigan State University study of 26,000 children aged 10 to 18 years reported that fun is the reason most children participate in sport and a lack of fun is the primary reason for dropping out. Winning had very little effect on whether or not kids stayed in the game.
If fun is what it takes to keep kids in sport, then coaches and parents need to ensure that practices and games are enjoyable. Coaches need to keep kids engaged and make them feel a part of the team and parents need to show unconditional support of their child's efforts and encourage them to play for the "fun of it" - not just to win.
Be prepared to wipe away a few tears. Disappointment, frustration and failure are part of sport. In fact, the ability to manage these emotions is something sports participation teaches kids. The best way to deal with tears is to acknowledge the feelings and let your child know that even the best athletes experience failure and disappointment in their career.
Successful athletes put their mistakes behind them and refocus on the goals ahead, which is what you should tell your young athlete when they put the puck in their own net or drop the ball that ends up scoring the winning run.
Know when to push and when to back off. There's no doubt that parental support and encouragement keep kids in sport, but there's a line between support and pressure that parents should avoid crossing.
That line isn't well defined, but a York University study of athletes who dropped out of a sport and those who stayed in offered a surprising picture of when parents should push and when they should back off.
According to lead researcher Jessica Fraser-Thomas, all the athletes in the study considered dropping out of sport. Those who did noted that their parents forced them to continue even as their interest waned. Whereas the children who chose to stay in sport, did so after exploring their options with their parents. Allowing your child the freedom to take an occasional practice off or to adjust their training schedule while still encouraging them to remain active seems to be a winning formula.