Got a Sporty Kid? Expert’s Tips for Navigating the Sporting Year

For parents, the start of a new school year often means the onset of a fresh sports season or an increased level of competition for our kids, especially if you have a sporty kid in your household.

It’s that time of the year when we find ourselves enthusiastically responding to our kids’ pleas to enrol them in all manner of sports — some of us are even brave enough to take on roles as volunteer coaches and umpires.

However, the weight of expectations placed on both parents and children can be more than a little overwhelming as the year rolls on.

For parents, we suddenly find ourselves shuttling our kids between games and training sessions each week. Weekends become a dedicated shuttle service. Forget about making other plans!

Sporty Kid tips for parents
‘Sorry, I can’t hang out this weekend. Or any weekend. I have sporty kids.’ Source: Adobe Stock

And for our children, the current culture emphasises not just playing for enjoyment but training to win, and this pressure which can start as early as primary school can be relentless alongside academic commitments.

To alleviate this pressure and make sure the sporting year is as enjoyable and relatively smooth as possible for all, there are some things parents of sporty kids can watch out for.

Mental preparation matters

As a sports psychologist, I frequently encounter young athletes who’ve succumbed to the stress of pursuing victory at any cost. While physical readiness for the competition is usually prioritised, the mental preparation crucial for kids aged nine to fourteen is often overlooked.

Parents can play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between physical and mental readiness, preventing performance anxiety, and fostering an environment where young athletes can genuinely enjoy the competition. Research underscores the importance of ‘fun’ as the primary motivator for young athletes, but all too often, the joy of competing is overshadowed.

A common pitfall is parents becoming overly involved and overly critical, especially when dissecting errors during and after a game. The car ride is not the place to discuss mistakes!

Play netball
Bad games should never be discussed during the car ride home. Photo: Supplied

It’s crucial to remember that sports are not just transactional; they are inherently emotional. Approaching your little one’s performance with empathy is key to preserving the game’s enjoyment.

Performance vs results

Our kids need to know the performance process, hands down is highly controllable. As your child learns skills to develop, refine, and control activation of these habits, they are 100% accountable for performing these actions when competing.

The results though, are an entirely different matter. Help your child understand they have a low degree of control over the results and outcomes. Explain to them, they can only truly control what exists in the present moment (i.e., their thoughts, feelings, and actions in the performance process).

We need to place equal importance on all the habits that make up the performance process. When you have a clear picture of what these look like in your child’s sport, you’ll be better able to watch out for them on the field or court. Bring these performance habits into the conversation instead of highlighting the results and errors.

Self-talk off the pitch

In a landscape where teenage anxiety and depression rates are rising, teaching strategies for maintaining composure, staying present, maintaining perspective, and navigating stressful situations is key. Encourage self-talk as a tool for controlling doubts and worries daily.

Whether you’re a parent, coach, or teacher, walking alongside young athletes and facilitating their learning and growth on and off the field is the ultimate goal.

As we embark on the year 2024, keeping these top tips in mind can contribute to a positive and fulfilling sporting experience for both parents and children alike.

What to read next

mum centralDr Jay-Lee Nair is an Australian sport psychologist. Her area of expertise is working with young athletes who experience performance anxiety and teaching them strategies to thrive in the competitive environment. Her book, Good Sport – How to support and talk to young athletes before, after and during the game is available from Booktopia. 

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