Youth sports today provides children with endless opportunities to participate in a variety of sports at all levels. The goal for many parents when starting sports is to get their children exposed to several options, so that they can find a sport that they love. For some kids it takes multiple tries to figure out what works for them and what doesn't. For others, they are instantly drawn to a sport or multiple sports that become “their” sports. Over the years, it can feel like the sport they love takes on a life of its own.
Year over year, the competition gets tougher, the expectations get higher. It can often feel that what began as a love affair has become a full time job. Tryouts, coaching challenges, competing for positions and team dynamics can make sports feel overwhelming for both the parent and athlete. As parents, we want our children to enjoy their sports and also to continue to excel so they can achieve their goals. How can you help your child continue to excel on the field without losing the joy of the sport? Here are three things to try at home so that your athlete continues to thrive throughout their sports journey.
Prioritize Play - Sports are so much fun because they are games! Children thrive when games are incorporated into learning because play is learning for them. As parents, if we can turn practice into a game, we can help our children get the skills they need while having fun. See that your child is struggling to catch the ball in practice, make it a game at home. Who can make the most catches in a row? Notice that more speed would help them get more playing time? Try weekly family relay races or games of tag. Games encourage us to be in the moment and allow us to push our limits without thinking. They bring out the joy in our children and in ourselves. Play is what sports is all about.
Go back to FUNdamentals - Children often participate in sports over the course of several years, which means they will go through several phases of physical, emotional and social growth. Navigating how those phases impact their skills on the field is easier when practicing fundamentals is a regular part of an athlete's week. Going back to the basics with consistency helps children to adjust to growth more quickly and to take control of their play. By helping your child make a habit of practicing the fundamentals at home, you can help them to better handle the challenges that growth presents. Kicking the ball with them in the backyard, playing catch after dinner or getting on the wall for wall ball will provide a solid foundation of fundamentals, as well as an opportunity to spend time together connecting. A win-win for everyone!
Stay Curious - The best part of starting a new sport with your child is that you don’t know the outcome. Your child may love the sport, refuse to play by the 4th week, be a superstar or make a ton of friends. The joy of the experience comes from a place of being curious about what is best for your child. This curiosity can fade along the journey, if we let it. Once children choose a sport we begin planning, plotting and visioning where their journey may lead. A great way to help our children hang on to the joy of the sport is for us to stay curious. Asking them questions about how they feel about their play, what is their favorite part or who is their favorite teammate. Our curiosity gives them back the autonomy they had when they started sports. When we didn't know if they would like it or not. Having autonomy on the sports journey, with parents who are curious about their athlete’s thoughts and feelings, continues the joy of the sport.