My column earlier in the month about competition, along with others on sideline behaviour and pushy parents trying to live their sporting dreams through their children, has one reader wondering if I'm anti-sport.
Far from it. Physical activity in general and sport, in particular, provide many opportunities to build a rounded person. They can:
Improve both physical and mental or emotional wellbeing.
Assist with development of motor skills and co-ordination.
Allow the positive release of surplus energy.
Provide opportunities for teamwork and co-operation, the need to communicate, follow a plan of action, be reliable, and show commitment.
Provide leadership opportunities.
Foster self-confidence, self-reliance and social skills.
The reasons for reluctant participation can be many and varied and are wisely addressed early. The longer it's left, the more difficult it becomes as the child falls further and further behind peers in gaining skills and expertise.
When sport is seen as a test of a person's adequacy and standing, avoidance can remove the fear of not measuring up in the peer environment but unfortunately the child can be hit from the other direction by a sense that they're a disappointment to their parents.
Parental frustration only makes matters worse. Youngsters can feel trapped at this point with nowhere to go. Back off and see if you can get to the bottom of the problem with sympathetic questioning. If they already feel that they're letting you down, you will need to go gently.
You may well find the reason is:
A fear of injury.
An unpleasant experience such as frequently being picked last.
A lack of a particular skill or something like poor hand-eye co-ordination that has led to teasing or humiliation.
Discomfort with some strongly competitive peers.
Lack of confidence.
Fear of making a fool of themselves.
You can then either help them address the issue by playing and practising with them – avoiding pressuring them or adding further to any sense of humiliation, lack of confidence or failure. If you can't do that yourself then find someone who can. It's a bit like teaching driving – if your patience is thin, someone else can probably achieve the desired outcome in a more positive and less destructive way.
Or look for other sports or activities that better suit their nature or their skills and abilities. It might not be hockey but, instead, it could be dance. It might not be rugby but, instead, it could be chess.
Don't make the sport's statistics the measure of their success but the participation. Help them realise that a loss or a missed opportunity or a rather silly play is not the end of the world. There's always another opportunity – and even the top sports people have their off days.
© Ian Munro 2012. All rights reserved.