Eyes & Focus on the Prize

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Sports involvement can be a delightful thing for kids. But that rest on the messages children perceive from adults and teammates about how they are doing at whatever sports they choose.

 Children are constantly growing. Physical and chemical changes bring fresh challenges to each developmental stage a child passes through; the mental and emotional development only adds to the considerations. Competition can help a child develop confidence and enjoy the experience, or it can slow development and make the experiences extremely difficult. How your child handles competition depends to a great extent on what he or she hears in terms of a parent’s or coach’s expectations.

 How can coaches and parents help ensure that kids don not get so fanatical with winning they stop having fun and stop budding through sports participation?

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Beware of all the stresses to perform. Don not be a source of more pressure by trying to rush your child’s accomplishments or have unrealistic expectations.

Understand development. Many unrealistic expectations occur because parents and coaches don’t know what kids go through to be able to run, jump, catch, and throw. Milestones for sports grow in a sequence as a child matures, and involve physical, chemical, and mental changes. They don’t stop after potty training.

Redefine success. Kids need to understand that doing their best is a good thing, regardless of the result. Reality success involves children improving compared to themselves, rather than to other kids. Reality TV won’t last; reality success is an approach that can be passed on from generation to generation!

 Keep it positive. Kids want to have fun, and that fun has a very good purpose. Encourage kids to do just that by giving them positive feedback. It helps them build the confidence and character they’ll need to rely on later in life. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for constructive correction.

Emphasize having fun; de-emphasize winning. When kids relax about outcomes, they tend to improve their skills, develop better physical fitness, and build confidence along the way. Remember, kids want to have fun.

Teach sportsmanship. Learning to show respect and appreciation for others is a skill that will pay huge dividends down the road.

If they need more encouragement, give more. Some children respond quickly to positive feedback and need little reinforcement. For others, it takes longer to understand that doing their best is a good thing, regardless of the result. The idea is to build excitement and enjoyment, not pressure and stress.

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