Many children become involved in organized sports at some time in their lives. What can parents do to make this experience a positive one?
In this issue Professor Matt Yeazel will explore this question and provide suggestions for parents. Professor Yeazel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Anne Arundel Community College. He is a licensed clinical social worker whose previous positions have included working with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health providing clinical services to children and adolescents. He also consults with the Family Outreach Network for bilingual parent education programs and works in private practice in the Annapolis area. A lifelong basketball player, Matt has coached basketball, football, and baseball for children in elementary through high school.
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MAKING YOUR CHILD'S SPORTS EXPERIENCE A POSITIVE ONE
by Matt Yeazel
A cornerstone moment for many families is the first time their child becomes involved in youth sports. For the child, sports can provide an opportunity to embrace new social situations and competencies. For the family, their child's participation in youth sports can be a source of pride, introducing a new way of connecting with each other as a unit. Despite these being the goals, the experience might not be a positive one. The child might struggle with either the physical skills involved or the social aspects of team sports. Family members, in turn, might not know how to handle this. Bad feelings could develop, and what was supposed to be a positive experience becomes a bad memory, one that sometimes leads to an unwillingness to try sports ever again.
No parent wants this nightmare to occur. Despite the unfortunate stories about parents, coaches or even players that lose perspective on the goals of youth sports, such activities can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. The question is how to put enough safeguards in place to decrease the chances of a negative experience. The following ideas can be a start:
Examine your own experiences in sports growing up. What was positive? What was negative?
Many of us have had an opportunity to be involved in youth sports at one time in our lives. Think about how your parents were involved and how they approached your involvement. What were some of your coaches' perspectives and how did they handle themselves? Most importantly, what was it like for you?
I look back on my involvement in youth sports as a mostly positive experience. I was lucky to have parents that kept sports in perspective; their involvement was always centered on enhancing enjoyment, rather than winning or losing. One particularly pertinent event occurred when I was 12. After three years of playing for coaches who had emphasized teamwork and skill-building above winning or losing, I got a new coach who belittled our team.
It soon became clear that I was miserable. I had previously enjoyed everything about the sports I played, from running laps at practice to playing hard in already-decided games, so when I approached my parents they knew that my discomfort was legitimate. Their support was important because they knew that I struggled hard with that decision. They reminded me that it was not sports that I was leaving, but an unbearable social situation.
Plan how you will approach your child's youth sports experience. Setting up transportation for games and practices is one thing, but more is needed.
When I coached basketball there were many things that were routine and standard fare for the team, such as what offense we ran, but as a coach I had to plan ahead and have what many coaches call "specials." These are plays that are used only in specific situations, such as plays that will allow you to take a good last-second shot. As a team we would practice that "special" so that we would not be caught off guard at the end of the game. That planning paid huge dividends during the season.
Create your own "specials" in your mind for how you will handle your child's sports experience. How will you handle a situation where your child and another child are not getting along? What will you do when other parents act inappropriately? How will you keep yourself in check when you feel your child is being treated unfairly in some way? What will you do if your child acts disrespectfully towards you in public?
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