Way back when my kids were little, I joined a bunch of school mums in a casual indoor netball league. Struggling to hold on to any resemblance of fitness after three kids, I decided I needed to break a sweat. Every Tuesday night, I subbed the laundry and the track pants for the court and the shorts. I put the kids in their PJ’s and headed down to the local indoor netball court. A small army of pyjama clad kids watched on, as week after week we threw ourselves around the court. Week after week, we got completely annihilated, but we had a whole lot of fun in the process.
Although the scoreboard was a dim read, I became acutely aware that in choosing to throw my body around that court each week I was showing my kids what it looks like to have a go. I was showing them what it looks like to participate in a team, to play, and to have fun (not just to win).
When Saturday mornings rolled around in our household and the kids were scrambling for their boots and shin pads, I noticed that the kids had adopted the same give-it-a-go attitude. I was on the sideline with a coffee and a smile. Regardless of what the scoreboard said or how ‘well’ they played, I was super proud of them for getting out there and giving it a go.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for us though around winter sports. I vividly remember the time I had to carry my crying netballer from the car to the court. She was overwhelmed and I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t one of my prouder parenting moments.
Every child is different
Each and every child has a different personality. This means that each and every child will have a slightly different relationship with sport. Some of them will love it and some of them will not.
More sensitive kids might loathe the feel and the smell of the cold mud on their skin. Perfectionist kids might loathe it when they or their teammates miss that pass or that goal. Our competitive kids might loathe it when they are cheated out of a win. Dreamy kids might not enjoy the rules and the structure.
Let’s face it, not every child is going to relish sport. But as parents the opportunity that sport presents to develop physical fitness, teamwork, communication, responsibility, resilience, and confidence is pretty hard to beat. So how exactly do we encourage our kids in their sporting endeavours when they dig their heels in?
Be supportive (but not demanding)
The aim of the game here is for our kids to feel supported and encouraged by us and not pressured to win or be the best. We’ve all seen those parents on the sideline that are screaming instructions to little Jonny, jumping up and down with delight when the score shifts in Jonny’s favour and giving the ref plenty of stick when it doesn’t.
Being supportive looks like a friendly and quiet presence on the sideline. It sounds like asking, “How was that?” when the game is done. Being supportive sounds like, “I’m super proud of your attitude out there” on the ride home, as opposed to a blow-by-blow recount along with helpful lessons learnt for next time.
Be enthusiastic (but not too enthusiastic)
I’m not going to lie, sometimes finding just the right amount of enthusiasm is hard for us as parents. Sometimes we’re just so thrilled that little Jess is running down the field with the ball, it’s impossible not to fist pump the air with delight. But when Jess realises that her performance on the field has the power to either delight or depress us, then the sport becomes more about us than it does about her. That’s a sure way to strip away the fun and enjoyment.
Be flexible (but not a walk over)
It’s highly likely that little Jonny isn’t fussed about the same sport that you are. For now, anyway. For some kids, the pressure to perform or to ‘be awesome like Dad’ can be a real turn off. Before you spend the money signing up, buying the kit or joining the team – take some time. Head down to the field the court, the pool, the track, and just have a play or sit on the sideline to check it out.
Let little Jonny ask his questions, watch for a bit, have a little turn for himself without the fanfare. Let him take some time to mull, play, ask, imagine, and experience. Talk through his questions, his fears, his needs, let him take the lead and then quietly get on with supporting him.
Be committed (at least for the term)
Once they’re signed up then it’s time to just get on with it. When the humdrum of week in and week out hits, the warm glow of beginning might turn to the cool breeze of carrying on. It’s essential here for parents to hold quietly to the commitment.
Resist the urge to lecture “Come on, you wanted this”. Don’t say, “You can’t let your team down” or beg, “Please will you just do it” is important here. Instead some sad eyes which say ‘I get it’ will do. Lacing up the boots and filling the drink bottle are likely to convey the idea that although we might not feel like it, our commitment is not up for review. It’ll say, we need to get on with getting on at least until the end of the term.