For Parents

Getting Started with Sports

The best sport for a child is one that the youngster finds fun and interesting. To encourage a healthy and active lifestyle, you might casually expose your child to a variety of physical activities and let the child's desires and abilities act as a guide to further commitment.

Spend some one-on-one time with your child practicing and learning different sports and recreational activities. Don't limit instruction to one area; instead allow your child the freedom to try different sports.

If your child is interested in a particular sport, check out the programs available at school, through your city's parks and recreation association, religious organizations or civic clubs. And, make sure the youngster has the proper equipment for the sport — equipment that fits properly, is in good condition and has all the appropriate safety features.

A child is likely to enjoy a sport more if allowed to learn in a relaxed atmosphere while having fun and receiving support and encouragement from adults. Athletics for youngsters should be thought of as a means of entertainment and recreation. Adults shouldn't pressure a young child to focus only on winning even if exceptional promise is shown.

Even a young athlete who might show natural talent in a particular sport must work hard and show dedication in order to succeed. Almost any child, even if less skilled than his or her peers, can improve with positive support and coaching. Keep in mind, however, that enrolling your child in an organized sport is also a commitment on your part. Your child will need appropriate equipment, transportation and, of course, your support.

No matter what a child's interests are — baseball, tae kwon do, swimming or running — your child is likely to find a sport that he or she enjoys. And, whether your child chooses an individual or team sport, the health and fitness benefits associated with physical activities are the most obvious. By practicing good fitness and eating habits early in life, a child can increase the chances of growing into a healthy adult. Sports participation can motivate the couch potato, occupy the child who has idle time, minimize the habits of the fast-food junkie and relieve stress. Plus, the personal and emotional rewards can last a lifetime — self-esteem, social skills and dedication.

Reaping the Rewards

Your child will need you more than ever for support and advice in weathering the ups and downs that go along with sports. To help your youngster build confidence and have fun, try to be actively involved in your child's endeavor and keep a good attitude. If your child becomes involved in an organized or team sport, make every effort to attend the practices and games.

In organized sports, teach your child that involvement means certain responsibilities are required — for one's self and towards other participants. Encourage your child to give activities the best effort possible, to be responsible and to respect teammates, coaches and opponents — valuable lessons in sports as well as in life.

When learning a sport, mistakes are inevitable. Parents and coaches can lower the stress level by calmly pointing out that mistakes are opportunities for valuable feedback on areas for improvement. Adults involved in children's sports also should avoid pushing too hard, overprotecting or academically delaying a child for competitive reasons.

Parental Guidance

A child learns by example. Much of what is seen and heard, and how the child is treated — on the field and off — can have lasting effects. An atmosphere that is fun and educational is likely to promote healthy self-esteem in youngsters, just as a negative and critical climate can have adverse effects. To promote an enjoyable environment, help your child follow a philosophy of "fair play."

Fair play also applies to parents and coaches.

Fair Play in Sports

Some things for players to keep in mind:

  • Enjoy the game!

  • Respect teammates, as well as opponents, whether they are winning or losing.

  • Remember that the outcome is never as important as the lasting impression of warmth, understanding and pure enjoyment of playing.

  • Remember that scoring is most thrilling when it rewards a true achievement.

  • Recognize that playing to win is an essential component of competition, but seeking victory at any cost defeats the true meaning of competition.

  • Show respect for the referees, umpires and judges at all times, and accept their decisions in a dignified manner.

  • Lose gracefully, as well as win gracefully.

  • Try your best.

Player Pointers

Some things for parents to keep in mind:

  • Understand that your child will make mistakes.

  • Provide transportation to and from all practices and games or meets, and ensure your player is prompt not only in arriving, but also in departing.

  • Attend practices and games or meets if your schedule allows. Lend the players your support in a positive manner. Emphasize their accomplishments and efforts.

  • Make sure your child never talks with, or leaves with, strangers.

  • Have your youngster bring the required equipment to and from all games and practices.

  • Practice with your child.

  • Avoid material rewards. Stress the joy of the sport.

  • Listen. Make your child feel important and encourage contribution to a team effort.

  • Be positive and don't criticize. If your child is not performing correctly or improving, suggest an alternate technique with the coach's guidance, such as, "That's pretty good, now how about trying it this way?"

  • Be graceful — and not boastful — when your child's team wins.

  • Be positive and provide encouragement when your child's team loses or your child fails to place.

  • Make fun and technique-development top priorities when practicing.

  • Support your child's coach and, before being asked, offer to help in any way possible.

  • Don't disagree with the coach or referees on the field or in front of your child. Questions, input and positive suggestions should be discussed privately and calmly.

  • Enjoy the excitement of the sport and the opportunity to be with your child.