As parents, we have an enormous influence on the experience of our children in sport. Ensuring it is an enjoyable and comfortable day encourages them to develop a love for sport that will see them continue to be active into adult life.
Here are our ‘Top 9’ ways to help ensure your child’s game day is a positive experience:
1. Arrive early to games – Although this seems like common sense, trying to organise other children, work, and family life can cause life to be a rush. This rushing often causes stress, anxiety and frustration for children as they generally aren’t able to “hurry parents up” and are fearful they will let down their team and coach. Arriving early also allows your child time to relax, socialise and have fun before the game, adding to a great day. This does require us to be organised in advance but the benefit is that it creates a relaxed and positive start to game day.
2. Keep children well fed and hydrated – Again, often this seems like common sense but children who turn up to game day without water bottles or not having eaten enough food can develop headaches and fatigue, which in turn can contribute to our children having a negative experience. Making a routine before the game can help keep the day organised and supports our children to be able to play with full energy.
3. Organise uniforms and equipment the night before game day – This pre-planning reduces stress, anxiety and frustration for our children and ensures an easier start to the day. Children often forget to put things away (I know mine do!) and this can cause considerable stress if equipment or uniforms can’t be found at the last minute. If children are stressed and can’t find their equipment it may actually mean they are unable to play that day! (For example if their helmet is missing).
4. No pre-match “pep talks” from parents – leave this to the coaches. On the way to the game often parents and guardians remind children about things to do and what not do. This adds stress to a child’s experience. Parent involvement is important and talking about the experience in a positive way, about the fun and social side of sport ensures that children feel supported. Leave the tactics and game day discussions to the coach.
5. Focus on the fun and enjoyment of sport and reiterate the spirit of fair play – It is important to shift the focus from winning and loosing to the way in which we compete. The enjoyment and pride comes out of the competition not just winning. Talking to children about being respectful towards other players, coaches and umpires and good sportsmanship is also important.
6. Ask don’t tell – Engaging in discussions with your child about the day is wonderful, but be careful not to instruct or direct. Asking for feedback from our children allows them to express their experience. Some ideas of questions to hear your child’s experience could be;
– How did you enjoy the game today?
– How did you enjoy playing on such a strong player?
– How was playing in a new position?
These are positive conversations, not conversations about what needed to be “done better” or the “bad umpiring”. It is important to keep in mind that our goals and aspirations may not be the same as our childrens’. They will play in their style, their way and with their own aspirations, which are often just to have fun playing a game with their friends.
7. Don’t lecture children in the car ride home – We need to understand that children need downtime time before or after the game to sit and reflect on what has just happened or what is about to happen. Try not to interrupt this by dissecting the game and what could have been done better. Many children hate and fear the car ride home as they don’t want the lecture about what they “could have done”. This comes back to a misalignment of goals, our children may just want to have fun. Make the car a positive place and if your child wants to talk, let them lead the discussion.
8. Be involved in your child’s Game Day – This could be taking photos or videos or just being there to show your support. This shows to our children that we value their participation and will help to support them to keep playing sport in the future.
9. Refrain from negative sideline behaviour – It Is important that as a parent we are respectful on the sidelines. This includes not criticising referees or umpires, not telling the coach how to do their job and not barracking in a way that intimidates other people. We demonstrate how to be a positive person so that our children can be proud of us. Children are always watching and parents behaviour can sometimes make them feel embarrassed (We have all been there!). This often comes about from mismatch of child and parent expectations and goals. Concentrate on the positive aspects and social side of the sport.