Sports can be valuable learning experiences for children
“And when it stops being fun, you should stop playing. We all love to win, but we should love to play more than we love to win.” — Unknown
It’s football time in the South! Sports are a big part of our culture and children start at a very young age learning to play often numerous sports. The biggest game in Blount County is this weekend as I am writing this, and I, like everyone else, am taking sides and planning to watch. Competitive sports can teach many lessons to children, but not every child is going to be the next Peyton Manning, Magic Johnson or Tiger Woods. It is important as a parent to remember that each child’s athletic ability is only one small component of who they are and not a measure of their entire being and not the only route in life. It is not the outcome of the sporting event that matters; it is learning how to handle situations, how to work with one’s strengths and how to stay focused, disciplined and motivated.
In my work as a counselor, I often come across adults and parents who will tell me, “I was good and I played sports until I realized it was all there was between me and my father.” More often than not, the next statement is, “So I quit.” Often the reasons were fear of failure, fear of never measuring up to expectations, frustration and distance the sport was creating in the relationship. These stories are told because the parent never released the sport to their child. The parent was continuing to live vicariously through the child, was taking credit for the child’s success, and a loss was seen as a personal affront to that parent. The main benefits of children playing sports include providing the child an opportunity to develop physically and emotionally and to enjoy the experience. Other benefits of playing sports include giving children an opportunity to learn how to work with others, take risks, learn to set and achieve goals by developing positive work habits, learn how to succeed and fail with dignity, and develop friendships that can last a lifetime.
The most important contribution a parent can make during a game is to model appropriate behavior. I recently attended a Little League baseball game, and a child’s father spent the entire game berating his son and making insulting comments about the child every time he came up to bat. If parents expect their children to react to the ups and downs involved in a game with composure and dignity, then they must model it. Parents should focus on the team and not on their child. Players need only the coach’s instruction during a game. Playing sports can teach a child teamwork, leadership, honesty, responsibility, patience, self-confidence, persistence, sportsmanship and respect. If the child is properly supported, these qualities become an inherent part of the successful adult and provide a lifetime of success and happiness.
Brenda-Lee Duarte, executive director at LifeLine Counseling Center, 1033 W. Broadway Ave, Maryville, 981-7400, is a licensed professional counselor and therapist.