Magazine article Work & Family Life

Learning Skills, Building Character, Having Fun

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Learning Skills, Building Character, Having Fun

Article excerpt

When my child is 21-years-old, what kind of person do I want him or her to be? And how will sports help us, as parents, get our child there?

Organized sports, perhaps more than any other typical childhood experience, provides opportunities for the building of character. There are rules to obey, skills and positions to learn, plays to master and challenges to face. What it takes to get good at any sport can also help introduce our children to the pursuit of excellence.

Sports can teach our kids important lessons about themselves and the world. At times this might mean that winning will take a back seat to fairness, safety, the good of the group and long-term growth. And parents, coaches and all adults involved in youth sports have the added challenge to preserve the fun and enjoyment of play.

Today's youth sports culture

Building character doesn't happens overnight, of course, and the sports culture has changed since many of us were kids. There's a lot more "outcome pressure" these days, even on young children. As one parent lamented, "This league used to focus on developing good kids who were good athletes. Now we're all about winning."

Another difference is that many children start to specialize in a sport at a younger age. Both girls and boys are playing on organized teams as early as age five. And for older kids, non-school sports programs have expanded in most communities. There are more travel teams, more tryouts and cuts necessary to build these squads-not to mention the parental effort required for taking a child "on the road."

Contending with our own emotions

When it comes to sports, most of us have some personal baggage and, as parents, we need to be aware of our emotional history in relation to issues of competition and athletic achievement. After all, we want to make the joys and lessons of sports available to our kids-without tainting their experience with our fears, disappointments, unrealistic expectations or emotional outbursts.

Parental anxieties get played out in many ways, most notably in the "post-game quiz and lecture," often conducted in the car ride home. Why didn't you shoot more? You guys played like you didn't want to win. This kind of critiquing is a good way to suck the joy out of sports for our children.

Assert your values. Let's slow down and review what we really want our kids to experience when they play sports.

Instead of asking, Did you win? ask How was it? Did you have fun? Was everyone trying really hard? Did you play well as a team? These questions will emphasize your values and the importance of character-building.

Focus on and praise instances in which children try hard, persevere, overcome adversity or demonstrate discipline, courage, responsibility, camaraderie and good sportsmanship. This approach is preferable to praising only wins, base hits, goals, touchdowns or trophies.

Know your child

Each child has his or her unique needs and abilities. Think about your child's temperament, talent and risk factors. For example, one 10-year-old girl may thrive on a soccer team while her 12-year-old sister may worry more about how her hair looks as a cheerleader.

Don't make assumptions or set expectations based on your child's initial encounter with a sport. Kids' interests change. A baseball player from ages 8 to 12 might drop the sport completely at 13 or 14. Be aware, too, that talent often develops into the late teens.

Know your child's sports environment

We live in a society that loves immediate gratification, speed, convenience and outcomes-and sports are deeply affected by this. …

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