At this stage in your child?s life, her activities will likely play a key role in your family?s social calendar: soccer on Mondays and Wednesdays, gymnastics on Thursdays and little league all summer long.
During these years, your child?s strength and coordination increase as does her interest in team sports. In guiding your budding athlete, your role is to "keep the play in team sports and promote enjoyment," says Harris H. McIlwain, doctor, father of six and volunteer soccer coach for 20 years.
"The benefits of team sports are many," he says. "Children receive enhanced self-esteem, physical fitness, increased coordination and skills. Plus, they have the chance to socialize after school in a less-structured setting."
The advantages are great, but sports can have a downside: the possibility of injury, increased competition, unreasonable pressure to succeed. It?s up to you to help your kids find the right balance between fun and frustration.
Here are some ways to help your child get the most out of organized sports:
Focus on playing, not winning. Some parents have the tendency to sign their kids up for elite, superstar teams, even if the child sits on the bench during most of the game. Yet kids would rather play on a team where they can actually run, have their turn at bat, kick the ball or catch it. Try to get your child on a team that fits his abilities.
Whenever you talk to your son or daughter about their game performance, focus on their participation, skills, effort and sportsmanship rather than athletic talent and position.
Teach sportsmanship. While it may be difficult to refrain from cheering (or jeering) during the game, try to say things that will build up all the players on both teams.
After the game, encourage your child to shake hands with the opposing team?s players, whether his team has won or lost.
Don?t blame others. When your child fumbles, misses the ball or runs the wrong way, recognize that everyone makes mistakes. Let her take responsibility for her own actions, and help her come up with ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
Sing praises! No matter how bad the score or plays were, there?s always room for a compliment. Recall something your child did well and talk about it.
Stay balanced. While sports are vital for development, don?t let any team interfere with family time. If games are late at night or on Sunday, talk with the coach about rescheduling. Make sure chores around the house and schoolwork come before any team practice. If your child shows signs of burn-out?crankiness, frustration, a lack of enjoyment in the activity?take time off from team sports until she shows interest again.
The bottom line? When the game is over, forget the ever-popular question, "Did you win?" Instead, ask your child, "Did you have fun?" That?s what team sports are all about.
Writer, mother of three
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