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The Informed Parent

Childhood Athletics Can Be A Positive Experience

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Feb. 15, 1999

As spring approaches, parents find themselves once again deeply involved with their child's sports life. Team sign-ups and practice sessions begin. The following thoughts will help guide you through the sometimes stormy waters of your trip into childhood athletics.

We live in an age of sports emphasis. Athletics is a good endeavor for children of all ages. It keeps them fit and teaches them to work with their peers to achieve a goal. It also helps them to develop coordinative skills while having fun. Whatever team sport they participate in, they will be better for it unless the adults in the program distort the goals and make demands on the children beyond their physical or emotional powers.

As parents, we must see to it that the sports programs our children participate in are good, instructive and safe. We must also be sure that our demeanor helps our young athletes develop with a balanced and wholesome attitude toward the sports world. Their first few years in organized athletics may influence their whole life. Here are some guiding thoughts for parents with young athletes:

  1. Be sure the program is mainly educational, positive and fun.
  2. Don't allow them to participate in a program in which the children are being used to satisfy the sports fantasies of adults.
  3. As parents, we can't allow ourselves to live vicariously through the exploits of our children. This invariably places undue pressure on our youngsters. If you feel the need to compete in sports, join a team or compete yourself.
  4. Be sure that your children's coaches are not overbearing and demeaning to them. Don't allow them to use improper training methods or to instruct the children to use dangerous or unsportsmanlike techniques.
  5. Take the time to meet the coach so you can evaluate the person who will be spending many influential hours with your child. That person may, in fact, be establishing lifelong attitudes that will influence the child's view of the sports world as well as his school and home life.
  6. After the game, don't dwell on your child's errors or negative performance. Find something positive to say about the game, the other team or the child's teammates. Don't harass your child for not playing to maximum potential. Don't lavish praise on your child when it is not deserved. They can easily detect false praise and find it insulting. If you feel the need let your conversation encourage better performance by making instructional comments in a low-key fashion.
  7. Be sure your little one always knows your love and respect is not contingent upon this athletic ability or the number of awards he receives in sporting endeavors.

If parents follow these concepts, they will find the sports experience will bring them closer to their child and strengthen the much-needed child-parent bond.

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