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Bringing up Beckham: Raising athletic kids

Vicki Salemi is passionate about writing. As a regular contributor to AOL, MSN and numerous sites and publications she also blogs regularly for CNBC European Business, Women for Hire and Manhattan adventures on her website www.vickisalem...

The new breed of athletes

Look out, Tiger Woods. Move over, Maria Sharapova. There's a new golfer, tennis pro, soccer player (insert hot sport here) in the works! Think they have what it takes for the big leagues? Two words: college scholarship. Next keyword: sponsorship. Before you count your early retirement chickens before they hatch, listen up. There are effective ways to bring up Beckham to raise an athletic kid and cultivating their innate ability without being unrealistic or pushing them too hard.

Baby with Sports Balls

Stay focused

Soccer schedule? Check. Cleats, water bottler, and knee pads? Check, check, and check. Goal setting?

Huh? Jim Thompson, Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports spokesman, and founder and executive director of Positive Coaching Alliance, encourages parents to look at the entire range of positive benefits of sports for their child instead of just focusing on talent development.

"The reason goals are so important is that it is so easy to get pushed off balance when the competitive juices get going.  Also, if a child does show early talent, he or she is likely to get pressured to specialize early and do other things that may not be in the best interests of child or family.  Having identified these goals ahead of time makes it easier to stay on the right track when the pressure hits."

Winning isn't everything

Although your child may profess to being the next shortstop on the New York Yankees, we need to encourage them while maintaining a sense of principles. Thompson reminds parents that our main goal is to help our children learn and apply life lessons. Would you really want them growing up to become a big leaguer without morals, principles, and treating others the same way they would want to be treated?

"Our job is to make sure our children use their youth sports experience to grow into successful adults. If we become overly focused on winning, we are likely to miss opportunities to play this important role with our kids (and with other kids on the team)."

Even if your kid has fun on the court, what if they don't love it but only lukewarm like it? Better yet, what if your spouse was a varsity letter basketball player in high school? Don't push it, he says.  A gentle nudge is fine but pushing it may put them over the top. He explains, "It's good for parents to introduce their children to various activities including sports without pressuring them." Keep in mind: sports is a great way for parents and kids to interact whether you're playing catch, shooting baskets or playing table tennis at home. Spending the time to do it together can help build a child's enthusiasm and confidence.

The only problem? Too many parents go way beyond nudging.  "When parents pressure their children in a sport, the ultimate result is almost always not good.  Children burn out of the sport, tensions come up between parent and child, and the child comes away with the feeling that he/she needs to perform well to make the parent happy."

Life lessons on the field and off

According to ResponsibleSports.com, there are three elements for parents to become responsible and instill success: it's not just tied to wins and losses but also to mastering physical and mental skills. Thompson explains, "By moving our children's focus off the scoreboard results and on to their effort, our kids will be happier and more self-confident -- and the wins will come." Through effort we encourage our kids to always give 100%, through learning we see sports as a way to constantly learn and improve and lastly, through errors we teach them that mistakes are ok. "It's how we respond to them that really matters," he says.

So how can you set the example? Be a good sport yourself! "To send your children messages about teamwork, cheer for their teammates by name. To teach sportsmanship, stretch outside the box and cheer great plays by the opponent." When your kid makes an error, he advises parents to remind players to bounce back and focus on the next play such as motioning to them "no sweat" of wiping off your brow. 

Honor the game by keeping your temper intact and leading by example, and above all, fill your athlete's emotional tank by striking the right balance between specific truthful praise and specific constructive criticism.

"Educational research indicates a 'Magic Ratio' of 5:1, five praises to one criticism, which fosters the ideal learning environment.  A full Emotional Tank leads to better performance and is more fun for the athlete as well."

And that's one to grow on.

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