Many parents are on the lookout to identify any particular talents their child may have from an early age — hoping they may have an elite athlete in the making. If you feel your student is physically gifted, or has a tendency to excel at particular sports, there are several aspects you can focus on that will give your child every chance to succeed. Nothing can guarantee success, however, and you want to keep a close eye on skills and ability to avoid being the kind of parent that pushes their child too hard toward a sport they don’t like or can’t do. But you can help your child learn the right way to approach sport on a physical level, fostering important lessons about the values of discipline, resilience, self-improvement and leadership along the way.
Matt Thomas and Matt Journeaux are both British physical education experts living and working in the UAE. Thomas is the physical education teaching and learning co-ordinator for GEMS Wellington Academy, while Journeaux is head of sport and PE at Safa Community School. Here is their best advice on how parents can help their child in becoming a better athlete.
Play a variety of sports
A study conducted in 2017 at University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Center, and published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, indicates that students who play specialized sport at a young age are more susceptible to major injuries.
That’s why most schools use the long-term athlete’s development model, which suggests that children should try a mixture of individual and team sports before specializing in their middle teens, says Thomas.
“I still say at every parents evening, ‘Olympic champions say that it wasn’t just their current sport that they played at school,’” Journeaux confides. “Early specialization doesn’t necessarily breed success. Up until 12 years old, children should be playing as many sports as possible. Sports often cross over physical abilities, a variety of skills, enhance more social relationships and the transferable skills continue to improve.”
“Accountability is great in all levels in all walks of life,” says Journeaux. “It is vital in setting up a good foundation in your sports career. It is great to ask questions like, ‘if I don’t do this, I am not playing my role in the team’.”
A great way to encourage accountability is to record children’s progress over time, says Thomas. Whether on apps like Seesaw or Mi Move, parents can measure their children’s daily activities, thoughts, feelings and can congratulate and suggest ways to improve in real time — straight to that child’s device. Accountability, and not just in sports, give a child a great foundation for success.
Learn about the game
Understanding the ins and outs of the game will give children a competitive advantage. One of the best ways to do this is through umpiring and refereeing games. Many clubs have programs where players can learn about the rules of the game through junior umpiring and referee courses, a great way to work out how to be better at a sport. Journeaux believes that seeing games live is a great way learn more too. From watching how much a player moves, speed of ball movement or the power required to do a skill, seeing the sport in its highest level improves understanding.
Sitting down and talking about performance is a vital part of becoming a better athlete.
“It’s crucial to analyze performance and respond with constructive feedback after every fixture,” Thomas says. “A simple ‘what went well’ and an ‘even better if’, and for the coaches to ask a variety of questions that spark deep reflection. Remember to keep these conversations positive.”
Keep sport fun
Children should be exposed to a “variety of joyous and engaging experiences” in sport, only specializing by the age of 14, according to Thomas. And having fun is the key for all levels, says Journeaux.
“Sometimes children are pushed into sport, stemmed from a parents/coaches obsession. Having fun will lead to success further down the line.”
Getting children to lead tasks
In a school setting, many curriculums are designed to embed a “leadership task” in every lesson, says Journeaux. Pupils who display behavior that empowers others are recommended for sports leaders programs, says Thomas. At home, being encouraged to take charge of tasks creates good habits that merge over onto the sports field.
Focus on internal motivation
In a time where external rewards, such as medals, trophies and snacks, it’s becoming harder and harder for children to complete a goal just to feel happy and get some internal satisfaction, says Thomas.
“Rewards cannot be the sole motivator for sports performance,” Journeaux advises. “The athlete needs to want to be there and takes pleasure in being involved in the sport.”
Steady improvement as a goal
Parents and teachers need to help children understand the need to practice and improve and avoid complacency in performance, says Journeaux.
“The happiest people I know are the ones who are constantly evaluating and improving their own performances,” Thomas says, “contrasting with the unhappiest people I know are usually evaluating and judging others.”
Teach good nutrition habits
Eating affects performance, so make sure each child learns about nutrition, and what habits to adopt to be successful, Journeaux and Thomas advise.
Nutrition is not only about the game-day food and drink, either. It is more about good habits for the long term. Cutting out sodas, drinking 10 glasses of water a day and dropping the amount of packaged and processed food consumed. While every family is in a different situation with what is available to them, the more one-ingredient, whole foods consumed, the better the body performs.
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Mitch is a former semi-professional athlete, personal trainer and physical education teacher who has decided to explore the world and work with his partner in their adventure travel business. When not flying off to exotic destinations, Mitch can be found on the beaches of Dubai waiting for that next wave.