Promoting healthy competition for kids
Vickie’s parents were jumping up and down while they watched their powerful 10-year-old daughter slam the softball into left field. “Go for it Vickie!” they shrieked. Vickie was flying towards third when the left fielder made a great throw to the third baseman. Vickie went down for the long slide, but she was too late. The umpire called her out.
In a scene repeated throughout the land, Vickie’s parents went ballistic. Her dad charged toward the umpire, shouting at the top of his lungs—“Are you blind? Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you see she’s safe!?” His eyes were bulging out of his head. Vickie watched her parents with a look of horror and shame.
“Oh, no, here they go again,” she sighed to herself. She wished she could shrink into the ground and disappear.
Parents can play a significant positive (or negative) role in their child’s involvement with competitive sports. What can parents do to help children have a good experience?
Dr. Tracy Spencer, longtime Everett internist, is the father of four, all of whom were competitive swimmers as teens. Needless to say, he and his wife spent many hours attending swim meets. Dr. Spencer notes, “It’s important to remember that sports are only a game. Participation in all kinds of sports can provide wonderful experiences for kids. But make sure not to compare your child with other children.” He also warns parents-- “When sports take up too much time for a youngster, they may become a burden for them rather than a benefit.” As in all things, striking a balance is critical.
Parents need to keep competition in perspective. When kids are asked about what they like about sports, they rarely mention winning. Kids play sports for fun. This is precisely what parents need to remember from the moment Billie starts soccer in first grade and throughout his athletic career.
Parents can help their children enjoy sports by minimizing the competitive elements and by emphasizing skill development. The goal is for each child to learn new skills and to improve their own performance. It’s natural, to some degree, for children to get caught up in competitive fervor. Parents need to keep their own excitement in check. When parents take a more detached view about winning, children can focus on having fun.
Sports can provide children with tools for personal growth and development as well. With a capable coach and proper support from parents, kids learn how to work with other children towards a common goal. They develop mastery of their body and they experience the pleasure of accomplishing something worthwhile. It’s all about taking a swing at the plate rather than hitting a home run. For children with less academic ambitions, sports can be a playing field filled with accomplishment and self-esteem. For some teens, athletics keep them engaged in school when otherwise they might drop out.
Finally, it also helps to make sports and physical activity a family affair. Exercise is not just for kids! Bike riding, in-line skating, swimming, softball, Frisbee, basketball
and hiking can be enjoyed by “kids” of all ages. These family activities emphasize the fun aspect of sports and make for life long health habits. Physical activity should be a regular part of life, not just for a seasonal sport.
Imagine this scenario the next time Vickie is called out. Her parents go over to her and give her a big hug. “It was so great to see you hit the ball so hard and put so much effort into going as far as you could,” her dad says, while her mother beams with pride. In this scenario, Vickie feels like she’s 10 feet tall.