By James Grainger
Most parents of an aspiring athlete are familiar with this Jekyll-and-Hyde scenario: a tuned-out child who won’t lift a finger to help out at home or clean her room, but will gladly take instruction from a coach and sacrifice her immediate needs for the good of her team. But as startling and frustrating as this behaviour may seem to the parent, it’s a normal and necessary step in the child’s complicated journey toward independence.
Team sports provide older children and adolescents with a safe, structured environment to test out and grow their individual abilities, and more importantly, a place to gain acceptance from their peers. Sports psychologist Dr. Glyn Roberts writes: “Sport can affect a child’s development of self-esteem and self-worth. It is also within sport that peer status and peer acceptance is established and developed.”
That’s where a good coach comes in. A qualified coach can push a young person to dig deeper and try harder, especially in stressful situations that might at first seem beyond his abilities. They know how to provide sincere praise mixed with technical instruction to help the player improve his skills while learning how to work within a team structure. And any coach worth his whistle will give everyone on the team ample playing time, since no one joins a team to warm the bench.
So what can you do to help out? You’ve already done the most important thing: provided the time, attention and money to allow your child to participate in a team sport. Now it’s time to stand back. Young athletes are not only learning a whole new skill set, they are getting a crash course in sorting out complicated instructions and sense impressions. They must keep track of teammates and opponents and what the ball or puck is doing in the playing area, all while listening and watching for cues from coaches and team leaders. The added distraction of a parent doing anything but enthusiastically cheering from the sidelines can tip the child into anxiety and decreased performance.
The time to praise your child’s performance is after the game is over, far from the eyes of her coach and teammates. You might also use that moment to remind her about her messy room.
James Grainger is a writer, parent, and the co-author of Why I Didn’t Say Anything: The Sheldon Kennedy Story (Insomniac Press).