What can sport teach children? (by Eira Parry)
Guest post by Eira Parry
What parents ultimately want for their children is a long and happy life. We want our young teens to sail into adulthood feeling confident and acquiring all the necessary skills they need before they fly the nest to chase their dreams. But the reality of this aim, as a parent, can be something quite different. “Easier said than done”, doesn’t really cover it! It’s so common for life to get in the way, and to suddenly realise that all those things that you meant to accomplish with your 10, 11, 12-year-old are still pending – but they are now 17, 18, 19 and literally about to leave home.
There are lots of life lessons that we as parents really want to be responsible for teaching children. You want to impart the benefits of your experience and your core family values to them so that they really know the difference between right and wrong, and the wisest choices to make within the context of your lives. However, there are also myriad life lessons and skills that you can leave to someone or something else.
Working with sporting parents has shown me what a valuable experience an involvement in sport can offer young people. There are so many skills that can be gleaned on the field of play which need just a small amount of parental guidance to make them real life-shaping attributes.
Young people who are involved in sport at any level quickly learn that it isn’t easy. There are highs and lows, and sometimes decisions are made that can seem unfair – other people getting picked for teams; difficult referee or umpire decisions; losing a match / game / race in seemingly unjust circumstances. Often this is hard to stomach. As a parent watching your child put themselves out there in public in a situation where they might fail is emotional, at best, and excruciating at worst. But aren’t these ‘unfair’ sporting experiences very real examples of life? Life often seems to deal us an unfair hand which can leave us feeling low. We all know successful people who seem to avoid these experiences – but are they avoiding them or just better at riding the wave of disappointment? Are they actually more resilient, more pragmatic and all round better at picking themselves up and dusting themselves down, putting it all down to experience and moving on.
As a parent, your reaction to these sorts of difficult experiences is hugely important. The will to win and the sting of losing are very, very powerful emotions. So if your child has suffered a crushing disappointment (and when you are 8, not being picked for the school rounders team IS a crushing disappointment), it is really important to empathise and to give them (and you) time to process what has happened. Decisions made in the heat of the moment are usually based purely on emotion and are often regretted later – like taking the PE teacher to task on why he/she hasn’t picked your child.
Far better to accept that on this day, they weren’t good enough. When the time is right, discuss the situation with your child. Liberally use the word ‘yet’. Ensure that your child knows that with more hard work, dedication, focus and drive they can be on that team, they are just not quite ready yet. Help them to reflect on the things that they could do better when they are training in their sport.
Then encourage your child to ask for feedback. This in itself is another huge life skill and one that will stand them in good stead into adulthood. Being able to speak to an adult who is in a position of power and effectively gather useful information from them is a great asset – think about asking your boss for a pay rise, or negotiating a better business deal in the future. And being brave enough to receive feedback in a positive way is also something which as a parent we can support. It’s hard to hear things that you are doing wrong, or that you could do better. But, in my experience, the most successful people are those that seek out feedback in an open way, accept it and use it to grow into stronger, better people.
And although I am talking in the context of sport, these situations can equally be found with an involvement in dance, drama, music and many of our children’s other pastimes. With careful management and measured responses by parents, we can use these experiences to develop so many skills in our children and produce strong, stable, resilient young people ready for the adult world.
Eira Parry is founder and director of High Performance Parenting, an organisation that offers a support service to parents of young athletes through workshops, presentations and e-learning courses.