How to be a winning parent for your little sports stars

Children's sports - Dad

Back-to-school is just around the corner, and with that comes back-to-after-school-activities. Yep, not only do you need to think about new school hats, backpacks and shoes, but also swim gear, netball shoes and other paraphernalia (insert as appropriate).

Joining a sport is great for the physical and mental well being of a child, and parents exert a huge influence over how much they get out of it.

Image: Shutterstock

Unfortunately, the potential benefits of sport participation can be hampered by the ‘ugly sports parent’. You know the one. Swearing at the ref for supposed bad calls. Berating their kid for missed goals. ‘Helpful’ suggestions for play shouted from the sidelines.

At the extreme level, you get parents like these:

  • The basketball dad who bit off a coach’s ear after his sons lost their final.
  • The dentist – a children’s dentist – who sharpened the chin strap on his son’s football helmet to literally slash the competition. Five kids were sent to hospital as a result.
  • The hockey mum who flashed her boobs in order to distract the opposing team (and not that I would condone this tactic, but it’s interesting to note that her son’s team won 4-0).
  • The mum who hired a hitman to take out the mother of her daughter’s cheerleading rival.

Perhaps you’ve already worked out that flashing your assets or trying to literally kill the competition are not the best paths to your child’s sporting success – and will probably land you in prison. However, there are subtle ways that we may be subconsciously impacting our children’s sports experience in a negative way.

We have compiled our best tips to ensure that you don’t become the ugly parent and that your child get the most out of their sports participation.

EMPHASISE THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAM WORK

Team sports encourage cooperation and respect for others, important skills that will apply in all areas of life. They may also make life long friends.

Children's sports - Soccer girls

TEACH YOUR KIDS (AND YOURSELVES!) THAT THE OPPONENTS ARE NOT THE BAD GUYS

Your child’s competition is their greatest training partner. A worthy competitor will bring out the best in any performance.

ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO COMPETE AGAINST THEMSELVES

Accentuate the importance of the ‘personal best’ – that is, optimum performance regardless of outcomes.

REMEMBER THAT WINNING IS NOT SUCCESS, AND LOSING IS NOT FAILURE

Teach your child the important distinction between winning and success, and losing and failure. That is, focus on their performance rather than on the outcome. It’s better to praise a child when they perform their best and lose, rather than when their half-hearted performance results in a win.

LET THE COACH COACH

Your job is to be supportive and be your child’s number 1 fan.

MAKE THE SPORT FUN FOR YOUR KID AND ENSURE THAT THEY’RE IN IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

Are they enjoying themselves? If not, what’s stopping them? Is it the pressure? The coach? Could they only be in it because they want to please you?

GIVE YOUR CHILD THE GIFT OF FAILURE

This may be difficult in this parenting day and age, where kids seem to get a medal for almost anything. But they need to learn how to take calculated risks, deal with setbacks and learn from them.

KEEP A HEALTHY PERSPECTIVE

There tends to be an over-emphasis on sport and winning in the media. Remind them that the world won’t end if they lose a game (though it may feel that way!)

Children's sports - love

BE INTERESTED AND ENGAGED IN WHAT THEY DO

I’m proud to tell you that apart from some questionable fashion choices and bad hair, I have rarely been the ugly parent.

However, this is as close as I’ll get. I admit that I struggle to show a consistent interest in all aspects of their activities. Sure, I’m fully engaged in finals, gradings or end-of-term performances (to the point that I get more nervous than them!), but I often find the more routine stuff a bit.. dull.

This attitude suits my first kid. When it comes to extra-curricular activities, she prefers to do her own thing and in fact will shoo me away (as a busy parent, 1.5 hours ‘free time’ to go shopping or read a book in the car is nothing to be sneezed at).

My son, however, wants me to watch every move. He might play it cool but he has an in-built radar designed to catch me out if I’m playing on the phone or staring into space.

Children's sports - phone

Look at mooooiiiiiii…

Even if you’re not naturally interested in the particular sport that they do, there are ways you can help get yourself engaged in the experience. Learning more about the sports and identifying cunning plays might help you get passionate about the sport.

Failing that, have a bit of fun. Make up some bingo cards where you tick off every time a child randomly decides to sit on the ground in the middle of a game (extra points if it’s your own child), or when another parent drops the F bomb (but don’t do this yourself – that’s cheating).