Irish Grassroots Football Soccer Parents

20 ways parents can help their children have a better sports experience

As the seasons go by more and more parents are attending their child sports. Whether it be organised football or sports day in school, you can be sure parents will be there. Parents have a right to watch their children but they should also respect the fact that many people give up their spare time to help children succeed and stay in sport.

In the past, a lot of coaches were teachers so they had a degree and a background in childhood development. Now, coaches are mostly parents and/or committed adults and they may know a lot about the game but in many situations very little about how children learn. Kids sports has changed drastically since we were kids and learning the game is one of the biggest changes of all.

Sport itself requires teamwork, fair play, respect and problem-solving skills that transfer into life skills. In some cases, therefore, sport is a preparation for life.

Here are 20 things that will help you and your child have a great sports experience:

  1. Don’t push them into anything, ask them and if they say ‘yes’, go for it.
  2. Do not focus on winning. Teach your child the emphasis of participating is giving their best effort, having fun & learning. If we focus on those areas we will not strain our relationship with our children.
  3. Support them irrespective of their success and failure.
  4. Don’t pressure your child with adult values and ideas. Children play sport for different reasons.
  5. Let the game belong to them, because it doesn’t belong to you.
  6. By allowing them to take control of their game will keep them committed for longer.
  7. Never show your disgust for their performance by criticising them and don’t go through the game on the way home in the car. Win or lose the game is over to them and they aren’t thinking about it anymore. “There could not be a less teachable moment in your child’s sporting life then the ride home, yet it is often the moment that well intentioned parents decide to do all of their teaching” – John O’Sullivan See ‘The Ride Home’
  8. If they enjoy the game. Try and get them to develop an interest outside of organised training. This way they will take it upon themselves to work hard and get better (More success) and value the game more.
  9. If you control everything your child does they will never take responsibility.
  10. Model good behaviour on the sideline, be a good role model for your child.
  11. Don’t distract your child by continually shouting their name. Be enthusiastic, but don’t yell instruction and don’t get emotionally involved with the game. Sometimes silence is the best praise of all.
  12. What children see on a sports pitch and what adults see, is a completely different picture.
  13. Help children understand the importance and benefits of a good education in addition to developing their sporting interests. Coach Wooden said, Education comes ahead of sport and sport comes ahead of your social life. In any other order you won’t have very much.
  14. Provide them proper equipment and clothing to play.
  15. Stay interested in what they are doing.
  16. Allow them to set their own goals.
  17. Respect the coach. He or she might not always get it right but every decision is another opportunity for you child to learn something.
  18. If your child makes a mistake in the game, the first thing they will do is look to the line for your support. Don’t show your disgust, always be supportive. Develop a mistake ritual with your child so that they can move away from the mistake and focus on the next play.
  19. Children play sport because it’s fun. Play and fun mean the same thing to children.
  20. Sometimes “I love watching you play”, is all you need to say.

Coaching and instructing from the sidelines will distract your child from the flow of the game, make him/her more nervous, kill his/her enjoyment and, as a consequence, insure that he will consistently play badly. Eventually they will leave the game and not return until adult hood.

“Children make two conscious decisions per second. Sideline information prevents children from making a quick decision or deciding on one”.

According to Dan Gould at the Michigan State University Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, kids want to have fun, to get better, and to be with their friends. They want parental support and encouragement.  They want you to watch them play and praise them for their effort.  They want you to be realistic about their ability and they want you to be present, and interested in what they are doing.  They do not want you to shout at them the coach and the officials.  They don’t want you to put too much pressure on them, or be overly critical.  They want the game to be theirs!

John  O’Sullivan from Changing The Game Project said recently at a workshop in Dublin,

“Parents need to look at what these coaches do, how much effort they put into helping other peoples children. Without them we would not have a game, so don’t be quick to judge them. As a parent, once you are confident that your child is in a safe learning environment, one of the most important things you can do as a parent of a young player is to let them go and let their sports experience belong to them”.

Finally, how a parent behaves before, during and after a game can cause great anxiety on the child and consequently affect performance, development and enjoyment. Many parents will need educating in modern approaches to coaching, and how children learn, which is essential if they are to constructively support their child’s development through sport.

As parents, be patient.

Not all kids progress at the same rate and learning any game takes more time than most people realise. Allow them to be children, enjoying all the FUN elements of the sport, so that they can mature into the adult game naturally, learning each step along the way. Sports benefits not only builds kids physically and mentally it also builds and bonds relationships.

Reference: Coach John Wooden, Changing the Game Project, Timson-Katchis 2007, Woodward 2012, Horst Wein.


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