Parents need to grow up over competitive sports

So you signed your child up to the Sunday league and you’re standing at the sidelines, cheering and waving. You think all the other moms and dads are doing the same, but then you realize that the parent next to you isn’t encouraging, they’re howling at their kid to run faster or tackle the other team. Or maybe you even find yourself being that parent who’s gotten so caught up in the game that playing for fun and good sportsmanship aren’t household phrases anymore.

A new study has revealed that four in 10 children are actually put off wanting to play sports by over-competitive, borderline-hysterical parents. Naturally all parents want the best for their children; they want them to achieve their goals, to be successful and to do well in life. Pushy parenting has the opposite effect. The problem is that it’s not always that easy to take a step back, but you’ve got to realize when “doing your best for your child” has gone too far.

A massive 84 percent of parents with children aged 8 to 16 admitted that bad parental behavior made children less interested in playing sports, and 61 percent said that they think parents shouting from the sidelines is stressful for the children. Parents have witnessed other parents using phrases such as “losers” and “cheaters” being used about the opposite team, and parents criticizing their own children for being “too heavy.” In some cases, parents have even made their child cry in front of their teammates.

It’s an old phrase, but it’s true: It’s not about winning, it’s the taking part that counts. At a time where childhood obesity levels are at an all-time high in the U.S. and the U.K., we should be encouraging our children to be active and keep fit, not knocking their efforts if they’re not the best on the field. If we’re not praising our children for trying their best, the result will only be children who act disrespectfully to their teammates and teachers, or those who become disillusioned and revert to playing video games in their rooms.

Research suggests that 43 percent of children would rather watch TV or play video games than go outside and play. If you’ve managed to get your child outside and on the sports field, that in itself is an achievement. From there on out, it’s about praise and encouragement, not criticism and bad sportsmanship. Children learn behavior from their parents and coaches, and that includes bad behavior. If you feel yourself losing it, step away from the game and cool down.

Children need to learn to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy competition. Competitive sports that promote healthy competition by focusing on team building, fitness, skill and confidence boosting are hugely important for young children. Parents should be exemplifying this kind of sporting behavior and warning against unhealthy competition which is characterized by adverse behavior, cheating and pressure. We parents can actually take part in sports ourselves too, so get off the sofa and go for a run with your children!

With the right attitude, sports will become a time for parent-child bonding; just make sure you’re both on the same team.

Sam Flatman is a dad of two, living in Bristol. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, and is currently an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport.


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