The first game day for your child is exhilarating. We long to see them progress in activities that enrich their lives. Then, one missed swing or one wrong kick and they crumble. Face down in the ground bawling as though you told them you’re not celebrating their Birthday this year. Sports are a wonderful way to teach kids responsibility, loyalty, self esteem and respect. However, if this is your child’s first time participating in a Sport or team activity, they may struggle to understand how to be a team player. To avoid the tantrums and foul attitude, here is How to Encourage Young Kids in Sports.
There is no “I” in TEAM, But There is a “ME”
Children begin their lives in a world that is revolving around them. For the first part of their lives, most of what they do or accomplish is with help of an adult. As they transition to more independent play, their main focus is what “THEY” can do. The comprehension of a team is not the first thought in their little brains as they blossom into a self-determined toddler.
Gradually they learn to share and play with others. When a Sport comes into play, especially a new sport, children revert back to their independent ways. As they learn to master a new skill, their thoughts fall back into a, “I” can do this mentality. This is just until they can expand on the thought and include others in this skill.
Before the idea of playing as a team enters their big beautiful brains, they first think if they can first accomplish this task. During the first few practices, you may notice your child struggling for ball control or balance, focusing on their own actions as they attempt to grasp this new skill. Once the first game rolls around, it’s not uncommon to see children hogging the ball. This is not to be mean or in an attempt to reap all the glory. It’s simply that they are focused on what THEY are doing. Trying to keep the ball in bounds or making sure they are in the right position.
No Tears on the Field
OK, so breakdowns will happen. They just do. Some kids handle failure in stride, others cannot process so much emotional trauma and the water works are on the field. The key here is to encourage, be kind, and be soft with your words. As competitive as we can get in sports, it’s easy to raise our voice or speak in haste. (If you ever witness my hubby watching football, it’s a frightening sight.)
Your little one is already a ball of mixed emotions. They are excited about the new game, happy to be with new friends, stressed about keeping the ball in bounds, running the correct way and they want to impress you. The last thing you want is for them to think they are in trouble. This will discourage them, making them feel as though they are no good and more likely to quit altogether.
Console your little one until they can calm down. Suggest they take a break on the bench and take a few deep breathes to relax, breathing in through the nose out through the mouth. Once the tears seize to fall, give them some water and explain that it takes practice to accomplish a goal. Give an example, like cooking dinner. Explain that “Mommy was not always a good cook, but after lots of practice you got better.”
You can get creative with how you want to set up your example. Give details of your own failures so they see that it’s ok to fall short from time to time. Perhaps you burnt some cupcakes so bad the house was filled with smoke and the neighbors called the Fire Department thinking the house was on fire. Or perhaps you attempted to mow the lawn only to have the mower run rogue and take off across the street, sans you. Make it funny to egg on a few smiles. Expressing that failure is ok and making mistakes is expected. This will prompt them to accept a few misses with no tears.
TEAM also spells “MATE”
Your child has TEAMMATES. Once it’s established that they CAN do this and with practice they will succeed, it’s time to explain how they are a part of a TEAM. Some children feel defeated despite your best efforts when they miss a goal or a swing. Arms crossed they stomp off the field with a look of disgust. They claim, they can’t do it and they are done.
Here is where you will convey the importance of a team. Point out that to your child that their team is counting on them to help play this game. Win or lose, “the team needs them” to follow through with the plays so they can excel in the sport. Taking the “ME” out of the situation is a way to open your child’s mind to the idea that a team is a unit.
One person may do well and another may do better but as a group they are successful. Alone they are not a TEAM. It’s important to point out that each player has their strengths and weaknesses, all are different. Some may be better at kicking, others aim, and others coordination, but together you make a powerhouse of a team. Your child will see that their moment of pouting is not beneficial to the team and they will want to help out their friends.
These are just a few pointers on How to Encourage Young Kids in Sports. There are many tools to get your children to engage in new activities in a positive light. I hope these tips may help you if you find your child struggling in a new endeavor. Please share your success and fails in this crazy adventure of parenting we are on. What did you do to encourage your kids in Sports?
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