Time magazine recently ran an article in which it investigated the question of what it was that causes so many kids to want to drop out of sport. The article told the story of a parent who went with his twin boys to every lacrosse match of the season, pushing the kids to succeed and yelling from the sidelines, encouraging them on.
But an encounter with some sports scientists got him asking himself some questions. David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, and the host of www.thesportsgene.com visited the local university in Florida. The dad was keen to hear what he had to say because he wanted to put his wise words into action with his sons. The talk was meant to be a way that he could improve on what he was doing already, rather than radically changing his approach to parenting and to sport.
Let Kids Experiment
But as Epstein developed his thoughts, the dad began to realize that he had gotten his approach wrong. For years, he had been pushing his sons to specialize in a particular sport – lacrosse. But Epstein pointed out that this was probably not a good idea. The professor explained that the key to getting kids to play more backward was to let them experiment and find out which sports they like and which they don’t. Parents, the professor, pointed out, often feel as if they have to pressure their kids into specializing in one particular sport because they think that this is the only way to get them recognized by coaches. But, he pointed out, this often just leads to injury and that the child is less likely to find a sport that they actually love.
Epstein suggests that parents “model” sporting interactions, rather than trying to get their kids to play on the soccer field. He suggests starting this from when they are very young. Teaching kids to play sports before they have had a chance to develop their coordination and physicality is doing things backwards, he says. His approach is to teach kids athletic skills first, doing things like hiking, general play, and camping. Then, when they get older, introduce formal sports to their itinerary.
Epstein bases this argument on data from UCLA. The University found that athletes who wait to specialize later are more likely to get college scholarships.
Reward Kids, But Teach Self-Evaluation
Epstein also points to the importance of rewarding kids with trophies and medal, like those at www.trophiesplusmedals.co.uk. But, he says, it’s important that the parents don’t praise a child for what they have achieved. Instead, they should teach the child the ability to reflect, so that they can make up their own mind if they have done well or not.
His assertions are based largely on the work of a Dutch researcher who has found evidence that kids who are able to evaluate their own work are able to do better. Parents can use the periods after a match to ask their children questions. Saying things like “Are you proud of how you played today?” Or “What do you think you could improve on?” all help the child make up their own mind about how they performed, without influence from the parent.