Your Child’s Biggest Fan

By Brad Kayden, Schaumburg Park District Youth Sports Instructor
Congratulations, the sparkle in your eye has become an athlete! As a result, your parenting responsibilities have ballooned. You have taken your role as bus driver, mobile disc jockey, cheerleader, and magician in the kitchen to new levels. Even the way you communicate has changed. If, for example, you are working with a more seasoned athlete you may have already advanced to shouting parent-worthy reminders like, “Do not walk outside with wet hair, you will catch pneumonia,” a personal favorite of my mothers. 
As a childs aspirations grow, so too do your parenting responsibilities. Research has shown that most parents are unaware of how many additional responsibilities they take on when their child becomes active in sports. A go, go, go cheer can automatically award you the title of being your childs biggest fan, but a go, go, go lifestyle can leave you too tired to get the words out. As hard as you try, sometimes it is hard to prevent the stresses of life from interfering with your efforts to be your childs biggest fan. Be aware of how you support your little athlete, stress can make it to go from healthy to unhealthy encouragement quickly. Dont let stress cause you to become, in your childs mind, his or her worst nightmare. Start by knowing the warning signs. 
Researchers from the University of West Virginia and Southern Connecticut State University have identified five different ways parents provide unhealthy encouragement to children in sports. 
1. Quick to criticize and slow to praise
2. Selectively shows love, support, and approval based upon the childs performance 
3. Becomes cold and critical when the child fails to live up to expectations
4. Lives out athletic aspirations through the child
5. Encourages the child to mimic the training habits or skills of professional athletes
Children are impressionable. If you want to be your childs biggest fan take a bird-on-the-shoulder approach. This discrete, yet supportive, way focuses on working at their pace; learning to listen; reflecting; and guiding your child through their athletic development. It is a healthy alternative to the win-at-all-cost bulldozer approach. This approach finds parents becoming overbearing, controlling, and manipulative of their children. Do not let the social pressures to win come at the expense of your child. How do you insure you are birdie instead of a bulldozer? 
Here are five healthy ways researchers suggest encouraging your child in sport:
1. Emphasize fun and participation
2. Define winning as a level of effort, not the score of the game
3. Measure improvement of skill not by comparison to other children
4. Maintain open communication with the child throughout the sports experience
5. Let the child experience the dynamics of sport at his or her own pace
Your child works hard everyday to make you proud. Finding the time to share the experience of sports and all the life lessons that can be learned from them is an invaluable parenting opportunity. Finally, flash a smile that lets them know you care. This can be the catalyst that inspires the inner strength within them to fuel a maximum effort. See you in class!
Copyright © 2007 by Bradley J. Kayden. All Rights Reserved.