Few things bring more happiness than the sight of a happy, bubbly child. And I got to see one recently when I was visiting a friend’s place. While we both were still engrossed in our talks, a little figure dashed into the house. It was my friend’s 8 year old son, Amit, back home after playing an invigorating game of football with his colony friends. With a mischievous smile plastered on his face, a twinkle in his eyes and a happy spring in his feet, I could literally see the excitement of the game still bursting from his body. Just as he was frolicking towards me, his father asked him “Toh, aaj jeeta ki haara?” ( translates to “Did you win or lose?”)
That sentence pierced Amit, like an arrow laced with poison. It stung him so badly, that I could clearly see his excitement level, his eagerness to talk about the game and the joy in his eyes – everything come crashing down in a second!
Halfway toward me, he hung his head down in shame, nodded in negative and quietly retrieved into his room. What a heart-wrenching sight it was!
His father had not even realized what a grave ‘crime’ he had just committed! I use the word ‘crime’ because his father had killed something! – It was his son’s happiness!
Winning or losing the game was surely the last things on Amit’s mind! He had gone out to play with his friends because he loved to – because it was fun!
Why can’t we parents just leave it at that?
Being a part of an Amateur Sports Management company, I interact with several sports parents on a regular basis and I have noticed this behavior among many of them.
Being a parent myself, it has propelled me to share my views on this.
So, what are we doing wrong?
While this might not be a definitive list of parental traits when it comes to dealing with kids and their sports habits, it does address some of the critical aspects where parents go wrong and how it could be addressed.
She Plays for Fun, and that’s OK!
Who wouldn’t remember the Sports Day celebrations when they were in school?
For me, it was a day filled with excitement, running around and just having fun!
Things haven’t changed.
Children, even today, love sports day. And the reason is because they associate sports with fun. But what used to be pure fun for children is no longer the same. Leave alone big events like Sports Day; these days many parents create such a brouhaha even when their child is playing an innocent game of gully cricket with his/her friends. We start over-intellectualizing and seeing our child’s games or love for any particular sport with a competitive lens, and even worse, also start forcing (sometimes unknowingly) the child to do the same.
The moment we bring competition into the picture, a child’s perception about playing games or sports starts changing. The pressure of competition kills the joy of playing and slowly the child starts dreading it.
We parents need to understand that, in this rat race to become “the superstar mom & dad” we have become extremely calculative and allow our child to play only if we foresee some advantage from it.
That mindset needs to change. let them play just for fun!
Sports is a Great Teacher
A playground is a school in itself. It teaches the child those skills which will be essential and beneficial for her as she grows up and starts facing the challenges of the real world.
Unfortunately, an alarming 60% of parents feel that only studies matter; playing is a waste of time!!
We say things like “He’s always playing! When will she study?”, “Khel ke kya seekhega?”(translates to “what will you learn from playing?“)
We parents fail to see that playing sports teaches a child those skills that no textbook can teach. Here are some common examples
- That last crucial over whether he bowls or bats or fields is when he learns to handle stress. In sport one quickly learns to focus on the next play and not the end-result
- When he loses a game (and that will happen often), he learns to exercise self-control. It is a critical skill to learn “how to lose”. It’s OK to feel upset after losing but NOT OK to act in that anger!
- When playing as a part of a team, he quickly understands he has to play a role in the team and the importance of teamwork.
So many such valuable virtues and skills that a child gets to learns while playing!
Sports provides great opportunity for you to build child’s character
And that’s not it.
Doesn’t every parent want their child to grow up with solid values and strong virtues? We lecture them; tell them stories, go out of our way– just to inculcate good values in them. We fail to see, that one tool, that can do the job most effectively, which is already a very dear part of the child’s life – which is Sports. Let me share an incident with you that got me to believe that gives us the mammoth opportunity to teach moral values to our kids.
I happened to be in Hyderabad last year during my 11-year old niece’s school sports day. Like most parents in the stadium, I along with my sister and brother-in-law were happily cheering for the young ones while they were jumping in sacks or running with lemon-in-spoon. Next was my niece Sreeja’s running race.
The whistle blew and the girls flew. Just a few seconds into the race, we saw one of the girls fall down on the track with a sprained ankle, writhing in pain. While the remaining girls kept running faster, Sreeja stopped and ran back towards her fallen friend, helped her up and took her to the ground where there was help available. That was the moment- it blew us all off! In fact, everyone in the stadium forgot about the race winner and started clapping for Sreeja and her selfless act.
A parent walked up to my sister and told her “Your daughter has such good values”. Tears of joy welled up in my sister’s eyes. It was indeed a moment of pride for both the parents.
I really wanted to know how she had managed to instill such a great virtue of kindness into that little soul. To which she later told me about the match-day policy that she along with her husband had formed.
First, after every match, irrespective of the result, the ritual would be to go out and celebrate. It would be like a family pizza party day. With this policy, the parents have smartly taught the child that winning or losing are just a part of life. Victory and defeat, both should be embraced with a smile.
Second, on the way back home from any sports competition or match, won or lost, the conversation in the car or at home would not revolve around the game. That would be the time when she and my brother-in-law spoke to their daughter about what they loved about her behavior during the game, how proud they were when she went and shook hands with the opponent team, how happy they were to see her touch her coach’s feet after the win. That was the golden time frame when they had their child was most receptive and used it effectively to inculcate great values in her.
Sreeja’s noble gesture during the race was a result of all those non-preachy talks on good values that her parents had had with her all along.
Therefore, if we stop or reprimand our child from playing, we are not only slowing his/her natural learning process but also missing the opportunity to teach them important life values
Instead, we, as parents need to use sports as that tool with which we teach our children the most important virtues of life, which will stay with him/her for a lifetime.
You didn’t learn Biology in 7th grade to become a Biologist!
Have you ever found yourself pushing your child too hard to win or constantly criticizing your child’s game or comparing with others game?
If yes, then please STOP!
School curriculum already burdens a child with a lot of stress. They are inundated with career-centric talks in school and at home too. Now, if we start bringing sports & playing, an aspect that helps the child unwind and recreate, into this career equation, imagine what’s going to happen to the child’s stress levels?
Forget a child; even adults can’t handle this kind of pressure! And forget a career, the child might stop playing altogether!
Playing sports need not be about making a career.
We parents need to stop over-thinking and just let her play for the joy of it. It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Making the child fall in love with the game is our job – and we need to do that by being supportive and encouraging. If we are successful in doing that, you never know, she might, one day, even take it up as a career!
Keep Calm and Trust Your Coach
These days, most parents, enroll their children in sports academies to acquire the required skills to excel in the game. Such institutes have dedicated coaches and trainers are responsible for bringing out the best in every child. While most coaches always have a strategy in place for every player, we as parents feel that the coach is not doing justice to his ward’s potential.
“Ye coach mere bachche pe dhayan kam deta hai” (translates to “this coach is not paying enough attention to my child”)
“He always makes my daughter the goal keeper”
“Why do you put him as the 8th man in the match?”
These type of thoughts and conversation are very common amongst parents. In the long run, it does nothing good but causes friction, not only between the parents and the coach but also amongst other parents. And all this when the child, who is the one playing the game, is not even concerned whether he is the opener or goalkeeper. Parents’ unreasonable demands only make the child embarrassed as he knows he is not really an opener and is happy batting later. But the parent is not willing to admit that and ends up making things difficult for all parties concerned.
By being over inquisitive and intrusive about our child’s game, either by constantly checking with the coach on the performance, or even worse – self-appointing yourself as the 2nd coach, we are just creating the perfect recipe for disaster. According to a research, a shocking 70% of children drop out of organized sports by age 13, and one of the top reasons is the negative intervention of parents in their sports life.
So parents, you child just needs your positive guidance and support. The coach is there to teach the child and we need to trust his expertise.
Over Involved Parent | Under-Involved Parent
If the only thing you are discussing with your child is her game strategies, winning tricks and feedback, or find yourself permanently chauffeuring her to and from sports practices, or all your social interactions, both offline and online, only revolves around your child’s achievements in sports, then you ARE an obsessive sports parent!
Being constantly hyper and anxious about our child’s game, is only going to intimidate your child. Studies show that spending more money and investing heavily in your child’s sport actually makes them less motivated, not more!
On the other end of the spectrum, being under-involved is also hazardous. I’ve seen many a times parents busy on their phone while the child is playing the match. There is no genuine interest in her game. Some parents feel that, just by buying the latest sports equipment or by dropping them to the match ground, they qualify to be called good sports parents.
Well, that’s NOT how it works! Both, being over-involved as well as under-involved is dangerous for the child’s wellbeing.
What the child really needs from us is our positive involvement, genuine interest in her game. Above all it’s the assurance that “I’m here just for you and I want to see you have fun” is what the child wants.
We as parents need to savor each moment in the child’s game because those are the moments which will remain with us for a lifetime – not her victories and defeats!
It’s indeed the journey that matters and NOT the destination.
Are you a True Sports Parent?
I still remember, on my exam day, just before leaving for school, my father would come by my side and tell me one thing very gently “do your best, come what may rest”. That statement had magical powers – it soothed my frayed nerves instantly… and has stayed with me forever. It reassured me that my father will be there for me even if I don’t do well in the exam, that marks is not the criteria on which his love for me is based, that I just need to go there and do my best. Now, as an adult, the same statement plays in my head while answering life’s exams.
We parents, just need to reassure our children that good marks or other capabilities are not the reason why we love them. We love them for who they are. Every parent wants only one thing for his/her child – good health and happiness. By allowing them to play sports, we are blessing them with both.
Being a sports parent is not tough. It’s about letting the child have fun with sports.
Now, that’s what all childhoods should be made of, isn’t it?
References / Sources / Additional Readings:
Raising a Good Sport – Dr. George Selleck
Success Mantra in Sports – M N Vishwanath
The Economics of Sport, Health and Happiness – Placido Rodriguez