This was the number one question I heard during my fifteen years as physical education teacher and sports coach. This six-word question was asked in a variety of ways but the impetus was always a concern for their child, which as a parent myself, I completely understand. The reasons behind the apprehension with enrolling their child in a sports program also varied greatly but the most common concern was their child’s general inexperience with sports.
My response to those families was always the same “Don’t worry I have never met a child that was born familiar with any sport. So I can’t guarantee they will love it but I can guarantee they will remain unfamiliar, forever if they never try at all. That’s why we are here, to get them familiar, teach and have fun.”
It was a simple and effective answer that may seem overly direct but it leads to an extremely high percentage of families giving the program a try. Of course, it is impossible to expect that every child will fall in love with sports but the goal of any youth program should be simple: “sports = fun”.
Let me be clear: learning about, and improving, their actual sports and physical skills are an important part of having fun. It is only natural that a child (or adult) is more likely to enjoy something in which they perform well. Improving consistently in the actual skills of the sport are a huge motivating factor. However, the learning is not only limited to the actual sports skills, the life lessons and benefits of a positive youth sports experience go beyond just expending energy or “tiring them out” so they will sleep well at night or take a good nap (which we parents all value so much). The developing of social skills, the building of self-esteem, learning how to handle adversity (and success) are just a partial list of important life lessons that can be learned as part of a quality sports program.
As parents our role in making the “sports = fun” a reality is crucial and there are many things we can do to help achieve this goal. Regardless of if your child is an enthusiastic participant or nervous first-timer, here are five some simple ideas that can help give your child the best experience in sports:
- Do your research and ask questions:
Look up the different programs in your area and don’t be worried or feel bad about asking as many questions as you like. Remember that no program is perfect, but if the answers you get make you feel more comfortable then it will only help your child experience in the long run.
- Try it out first:
Most programs will offer you a trial class a way of seeing if it is a good fit or something your child will enjoy. The programs are happy to do this because for them there is no better marketing than having your child participate in the program but it also offers you a chance to see how your child reacts to the environment, setting, curriculum, and coaching. Don’t panic if your child seems a little out of sorts or doesn’t excel immediately within the first few minutes of the program. In truth, a completion of the class or program without a crying fit or some other type of breakdown is a win!
- Get a friend or two to join:
See if there is a friend or two or might want to join the same program. This might make the first few times easier for everyone. The kids won’t feel so overwhelmed with a new program and as they gain more experiences the need for a friend in the class will likely disappear and your child will meet new potential friends and grow more comfortable with being in a “new” group.
- Be enthusiastic to learn (as a parent)
Your reactions and attitude during the entire process are HUGE. Our level of excitement and interest will rub off on our children more than we expect. Before the class tell them about what they might expect to happen during the program. If it is a soccer class that they will be attending, try and watch some soccer on television, or in person, beforehand. Even five minutes of seeing what they will be doing 9with discussion) will help them feel more at ease. On the day of; get to the site early so they have a chance to adjust, see what the area looks like and ask any questions they might have. Once the class begins, be attentive and be aware of what they are doing in class. This way you can discuss it on the way home and give your child specific positive feedback about how they did. The number one question should be “Did you have fun?”
- Keep perspective and Don’t be “one and done”
Don’t give up after one session or after one sport. Your child may enjoy the program immediately, and that’s fantastic! Or they may need a few classes to warm up and if this is the case, as long as they are not in complete freak out mode, keep bringing them back for at least a few sessions. Even after a few classes, they might not be thriving; so maybe it is the sport? If it is a basketball class they are not enjoying, try a soccer class or t-ball class instead. You never know which sport your child will take to but because a positive youth sports experience can be so extremely valuable; it is worth it to give it a sincere effort.
Please understand, this is by no means an exhaustive list. So doing all of these will definitely not ensure that your child will become the next NBA star or Super Bowl champion quarterback. In fact, it doesn’t even guarantee that the child will go past a couple of sessions but it does offer the best possibility of building a long-lasting positive view of sports. Which should be a major goal of youth sports programs.