9 Ways to be a Good Sports Parent

Kids Cross Country - hamming it up

Good Sports Parents Don’t Stuff Up the Car Trip Home

In the US, about 20 million kids register for competitive sports each year. By the time they are 13, just 30% of those kids are still playing sport. And the really sad thing about the other 70%, is that they will never play sport again. That is, not ever.

Whilst I don’t have figures for Australia, anecdotal evidence certainly points to a large number of kids (especially girls) dropping out of sport and physical activity in their early teens. That’s here, in Australia, where we have one of the best all round climates for outdoor sport in the world.

So how do we keep our kids involved in sport into adulthood?

Kids Stop Playing Sport When it Stops Being Fun

According to research, the number one reason kids drop out of sport is because it’s not fun. Very reasonable. Most adults don’t choose to do things which they don’t find fun. So why would kids be any different? The research, conducted by George Washington University, showed the top 6 things which made sport more fun for kids were

  1. Playing your best
  2. When coach treats player with respect
  3. Getting playing time
  4. Playing together well as a team
  5. Getting along with your teammates
  6. Exercising and being active

Further down the list were things such as

  • Winning (#48)
  • Playing in tournaments (#63)
  • Getting medals or trophies (#67)
  • Getting pictures taken (#81)

Take another look at those lists. Playing your best was the number one factor which kids felt made sport fun. Winning (which many of we adults think rocks) ranked only 48th on the list of factors that make sport fun for kids. And that’s what it should be about. Kids sport should be fun for kids, not a competition between parents.

So if we want to keep kids playing sport well into adulthood, we need to make sport fun. Much of making sport fun comes back to the parents. Parents are pretty involved in kids sport these days in Australia. I wonder if sometimes parents don’t have just a little too much invested in their kids’ games.

Best Coaching Exercise Ever

A couple of years ago, I coached an under 10’s soccer team. Whilst I was reading up about coaching, I came across an exercise which I thought was absolutely awesome. It went something like this.

  • Get all the parents together.
  • Give half of them orange bibs, half of them green bibs.
  • Put them on the soccer field.
  • Have all the kids stand around the outside of the field, with instructions to help their parents play, by yelling out where they should be on the field, what they should be doing with the ball, etc. Tell the kids to keep giving them helpful instruction, and to make sure you yell out loud so their parents can hear them.
  • Blow the whistle to start the game
  • See how well the parents play when they are constantly being told what to do and not given a chance to think for themselves.

9 Ways to Be a Good Sports Parent

# 1. Give your child some space

When was the last time you stood over your child in a maths exam and cheered every time they carried the one, or grimaced when they made a mistake? When was the last time you gave them step by step instructions on how to do their homework, without giving them a chance to figure it out for themselves? I’m betting the answer here will be never, or at least not very often. With their school work, we trust them enough to give them the chance to figure things out on their own. Then we give them help if they ask for it.

I’m not sure why this is, but with sport, some parents simply can’t resist the temptation to tell their kids what to do, where to be, who to mark, when to pass the ball, when to take a shot. We’ve all  heard “that parent” on the sideline. What many of us don’t realise is that we do it ourselves, even if it is at a much calmer level than “that parent”. Mostly, our “help” is well meaning,  but every time we tell our kids to “have a shot” “pass the ball” “mark a player” we are depriving them of the opportunity to develop their strategic thinking.

The reality is, if your child could make a play down the sideline, or read the play and be in position to intercept the ball from the attacking team, or if they could have scored the goal, won the race, passed the ball…they would have! There’s little point telling your kids to “run faster” or “try harder”, or “use the space”. It’s a bit like telling them to be taller.

If you really want to help your child develop their skills, keep in mind that the heat of the moment is not the best time to assimilate new information. Leave the coaching to the coach, and show your kids you enjoy watching them play, not watching them be outstanding. Cheer them on, shout out “Go Thunder” (if their team name happens to be “Thunder” that is), but don’t act like your kids are playing sport for your entertainment. If you find you’re screaming like a crazed Sea Eagles fan at Brookie Oval on a Friday night, you might need to take step back so that your child (and everybody else’s for that matter) can enjoy the game.

#2. Trust the Coach

In order for you to trust your child’s coach, you need to find out a bit about them. You can ask them directly about their coaching philosophy. Ask them if they plan to give all kids equal time on the field, what’s their aim for the season, what sort of things will the kids be doing at training?

Many of the coaches you’ll come across, particularly when your kids are young, will simply be the parent who has been good enough to put their hand up, so don’t bombard them with questions the minute you meet them. They may not have thought about it too much themselves when they first start out. But it is important to find out about the coach so that you can trust that they will develop your children’s love of sport, not crush it. So make it your business to engage the coach in conversation so that you can learn about them, and they can learn about you and your child. Make sure you approach the conversation in a non-judgmental manner.

Observe the coach at training and at games. If their values don’t match with yours, talk to them. I’ve heard of cases where parents don’t feel they can call the coach out on inappropriate behaviour because they don’ want to rock the boat and have their kids singled out, but it is NEVER ok for coaches to swear at kids or be generally abusive towards them to “toughen them up”. People like that have no place coaching our kids.

#3. Give the coach some space

 Most coaches will appreciate you giving them space to train your kids. Once you’ve established that you’ve entrusted your child’s athletic development to someone who is worthy of that trust, keep away from the pre-game and half time huddles. Hand your child over to the coach for the duration of the game, and stay out of it, unless there is a real reason for you to be involved. Don’t criticise the coach in front of your kids. The same goes for the referee and other match officials as well! If you have an issue with the coach, take it up in private.

Try not to be the only person who has a significant influence in your kid’s life, because there will be a time when they will need to learn something that you won’t be able to teach them. Gift your children a good relationship with a great coach, which you have little part in.

#4. Know That it’s Okay for Your Kid to be a Ball Hog

It frequently happens in the younger age groups which are not graded, that there are one or two outstanding players on the field or court. Parents of these outstanding players are often tempted to tell their kids to pass the ball, not wanting it to appear that their child is being a ball hog. Whilst developing good passing skills is important, so is developing the ability to dribble and control the ball in an individual play. Kids need to be able to develop the confidence to make a play themselves. Leave it to the coach to decide if someone is being a ball hog. And remember, it may not be that the child is deliberately trying to hog the ball. Awareness of where other players are on the field comes to kids at different developmental stages, so it just may be the child doesn’t know where to pass the ball, or how to get a pass away.

#5. Make Learning More Important Than Winning

Feeling outside pressure to win doesn’t do a lot for our children’s enjoyment of sport. If they can view each game as an opportunity to learn more about the sport, and more about how they play it, it takes the pressure off a bit. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t want to win. There’s nothing the matter with a child being competitive, but your enthusiasm for your child’s victory should not be greater than theirs!

As a sports parent, it’s your job to remind your child that if they love the sport, and devote themselves to the love of that sport, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. In other words, life is a journey, not a destination. If you really love the sport, it won’t matter so much if you win or lose.

#6. Remember It’s Not About You

Remember your child’s sporting success or failure is their success or failure. If you find yourself saying “we scored three goals today” or “we played poorly today”, might be time to take a look at just who it is that’s playing the game. Unless you hold an official position on the team such as coach or manager, you’re not part of the team. You don’t win, lose, play well, score a goal, need to improve your positional play. You are not part of your child’s sporting team, so try to use language that reflects that

#7. Don’t Make Your Kids’ Sport a Contest Between Parents

If you have kids who play sport, at whatever level, you’re going to be spending a bit of time watching it, and you’ll enjoy it more if you’re not comparing your child to others. Proving to yourself and anyone else who will listen, that your child is a better athlete than the next kid, doesn’t prove you’re a better parent, or your child is a better person, or that they are going to have a better life! There is no evidence that shows elite athletes are any happier in life than average athletes.

Twenty years down the track, it’s unlikely to matter who won the under 10 netball grand final. What will matter however, is what the under 10 netballers learned from playing sport, and how that is put into practice in the rest of their lives.

One of my kids ran at national level in the cross country last year. All a bit of a surprise, and it was certainly an eye opener with respect to parental aspirations.

What I hope he took away from the experience, was a mutual respect for the kids who he competed with and against. I hope he remembers the massive game of AFL the Queenslanders, Victorians and New South Welshmen had after the race, far more than the race itself (and I think I’d be saying that even if he’d have won the race!) It was so awesome watching a bunch of 11 year olds who barely knew each other, running and kicking and jumping together for the sheer joy of it, when shortly before they’d been trying to run the pants off each other.

To me, that’s what competing at any level in sport is about. The people you meet and the experiences that you have along the way.

True story. A few years ago just before my 50th birthday, I was leafing through my box of lifetime memorabilia, and found a program for the State PSSA Athletics carnival of 1975. I had completely forgotten that I’d even been to that carnival. But there was my name, in black and white, in the Under 12 Shot Put. I like to think that’s an example of how insignificant that carnival was in the general scheme of things, rather than of my failing memory!

#8. Help Your Kids Accept Defeat

Kids need to learn that victory and defeat are both sides of the same coin. The coin is of the same value, whichever way it lands when it’s tossed. Losing sporting contests can be heart breaking for kids (and for adults). If you’re not prepared to have your heart broken, don’t play competitive sport.

Parents can help kids get over their heart break relatively quickly. Often nothing needs to be said. A simple pat on the back or a smile goes a long. You don’t need to say too much. In fact you might not need to say anything at all. Your kids will know how you’re feeling just by looking at you, so you’d better make sure you’re not feeling frustrated, annoyed or angry with them, as they’ll pick up on that.

I’ve played sport most of my life, so I’ve had my fair share of sporting disappointments. I remember a couple of those disappointments particularly, not because of the result itself, but because of the support of those around me. A simple hug of understanding from my Mum when I missed out on making a state team, and a night out on the town with my boat crew when we missed out on winning an Australian Title, are two of my most treasured sporting memories (not saying I wouldn’t have preferred to have won that Austalian Title mind you!)

#9. Don’t Stuff up the Car Trip Home

 The car trip home is not the time for analysing the game. Win or lose, your kids don’t want to hear you talk about what they did right or wrong, or what they could have done better. Sometimes when things have gone wrong, you don’t want someone to tell you how to fix it, you just want someone to listen to you if you feel like talking. If you’re a Dad of a sporting kid, that might be a bit harder for you to understand, but believe me, on the car trip home, your kid does not want you to approach their sporting performance as a problem you can fix (apparently being Mr Fix-it is more a man thing).

Advice of this nature often feels better for the parent who is giving it, than for the kid who is receiving it. The car trip home, after a win or a loss, is often when your child just wants to sit back and let the game sink in. You don’t have to make conversation to make them feel better after a loss. They’ll know if they played well or badly. And they’ll know you know.

What do you say on the car trip home?

Head of player and coach development at Australian Baseball, Peter Gahan suggests the only thing that needs to be said on the car trip home is……

” Geez I loved watching you play out there”

Sports Drinks For Kids

Does Your Kid Need a Sports Drink?

I was absent-mindedly watching someone buying a couple of bottles of Powerade at the Little Athletic’s canteen on the weekend, and watched her hand over $10 for the two drinks – with not much change coming back to her. It seemed a lot to pay for two bottles of lolly water.

Back in the day, when you were thirsty, you found a bubbler or a tap, and drank from it.

Today, sports drinks advertisers would have you believe our kids do so much more sustained and vigorous exercise than the kids of yesteryear, that they need to replenish their fluids, electrolytes and glycogen to prep them for their next big sustained exercise bout!

Your kids do need a sports drink…if they “train hard and push their body to the limits” (1) and if they participate in “sustained, strenuous exercise” (2). And in my experience, very few children fall into that category (and I live in a whole street full of very active kids!)

Generally speaking, sports drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates, though there are some which contain electrolytes and practically no carbohydrates and subsequently almost no calories. Powerade Zero is one such drink. Some contain just two electrolytes – sodium and potassium (eg Gatorade G Series Thirst Quencher), and some contain calcium and magnesium and as well as sodium and potassium  (eg Powerade Ion 4).

What are Electrolytes

They are positively or negatively charged ions that conduct electrical activity. We humans need electrolytes present in the right concentrations to maintain fluid balance in the body, for muscle contraction and relaxation, and nerve activity. The kidneys play a big role in maintaining electrolyte balance, by conserving or excreting electrolytes.

Water is drawn to areas in the body where electrolytes (particularly sodium and chloride) are most concentrated, so they play a large role in maintaining the equilibrium of water throughout the body.

The electrolytes sodium and chloride can be lost in high concentrations in sweat, whilst potassium, magnesium and calcium are lost in smaller amounts.

So, does your kid need sports drink?

It’s generally agreed amongst researchers  that sports drinks can aid in hydration and the replenishment of carbohydrate and salts lost through bouts of moderate to high level exercise lasting over 60 minutes, where the participant has lost a large amount of sweat and electrolytes.

Just how much sweat someone loses, and how much of each electrolyte is excreted with the sweat, is a very individual thing. This varies not only across individuals, but can vary for the individual from exercise bout to exercise bout. Many factors come into play, including the weather, the intensity and duration of activity, and the level of hydration before exercising. So in the real world, fluid and electrolyte replacement is not an exact science (in spite of what the sports drinks manufacturers may have you believe).

Children (and adults) rarely need sports drinks. Unless you’ve been exercising continuously for at least 60 mins, there’s really no need for you to have a sports drink to replace glucose or salts. Often adults are fine for up to 90 minutes of sustained moderate to vigorous exercise without needing to replace glycogen or electrolytes.  With children, you could start looking at a sports drink at the hour mark. But, let’s face it, most kids don’t exercise vigorously for an hour or so non-stop, and they tend not to sweat in the same way adults do. It’s common to see kids a bit sweaty, but not at all common to see them come off the playing field dripping with sweat.

For kids, usually a piece of fruit and a swig of water will do just as nicely to quench their thirst and replenish lost sugars. If they’ve been running round a lot, and they’ve been particularly sweaty, you can throw in a handful of salted cashews to help retain the water, replenish electrolytes, and utilise the carbohydrate from the fruit more quickly.

For the most part, your kids don’t need to replenish electrolytes in a hurry by guzzling sports drinks. What electrolytes they’ve lost whilst playing sport will be replaced over a day of healthy eating.

Are there any situations when sports drinks are good for kids?

Sure. If your child is attending a sports tournament, when they are playing many games of a vigorous sport such as any of the football codes, hockey, netball, basketball, then electrolyte replacement drinks could be a good option for rehydration and energy replenishment,  particularly if they do not get enough rest in between games to take on more substantial nutrition.

If your child sweats A LOT, and their sweat is particularly salty – as evidenced by salt marks on their clothing for example, you may need to consider a sports drink for them, on those occasions when they do need to rehydrate quickly, but for the most part, kids should understand that sports drinks are a treat, just like lemonade is.

For the record, a 600ml bottle of Gatorade holds 140 calories, about 7% of the daily energy needs of a 9-13 year old boy!

Further Reading





Running Helps Kids And Teenagers

Kids Running Helps in Teenage Years

If you’re runner yourself, or you do some other form of exercise regularly, you’ll know just how good exercise can make you feel. I love that my kids love to move – they love all sorts of sports. Our neighbourhood gives them the perfect environment to be on the move constantly, trying out all sorts of games from cricket, basketball, street “ice” hockey, soccer, footy, swimming and cycling, and many more games which are the products of their own imagination.

I love that it keeps them physically fit, but the two things I really like about it are the social aspect of their activities, the negotiating and compromise, sprinkled with plenty of self-righteous indignation, and secondly, and just as importantly, that they are being set up for a life-long love of exercise.

That love of exercise is likely to come in pretty handy during their teenage years. It means there’s a good chance their teenage frustrations, experimentation, rebelliousness, risk taking, and energy overflow, will find a healthy outlet in sport. There’s a good chance they can use exercise to help elevate their mood if they’re feeling down, there’s a good chance they can go and run the streets to get their head together. There’s a good chance they’ll form some very strong and supportive friendships within a sporting team. And yes, I know. There’s an extremely good chance that they won’t be angels, no matter how much they exercise, and that I’ll soon be embarking on what could just be the most challenging years of my life.

We all want our kids to be safe and happy. Helping them to enjoy exercising is one thing we can do for them when they’re young, which could go a long way towards doing that. There’s an interesting article on exercise and depression, and how a group of teenagers use running to combat the black dog, which you can read here

How Running Helps Kids and Teenagers

  • Distance running is a great sport in its own right, and it’s also a good way of getting fit for other sports. It can be of great value to kids who are lacking a bit of confidence when it comes to team sports, especially those sports which demand a high level of skill. With running, kids can very easily see how much they improve with a little persistence and tenacity, and they don’t have to compare themselves to anyone else.
  •  Simplicity – all they need is a pair of shoes and they can head out the front door and be running
  • Efficient use of time – you can get maximum training benefits in only a short period of time. You can easily fit in a 10-20 minute run in a study break, and clear your head. Not so easy if you have to go somewhere before you can even start exercising. And you can get a high level of physiological benefit from short bursts of running.
  • You don’t need expensive gear – shoes and a t-shirt and shorts and you’re done
  • Running can improve your child’s aerobic capacity, meaning they can last longer before tiring in other sports such as soccer, netball, rugby and hockey. Note, however, that most kids pre-puberty are not capable of more than a 5-10% improvement in aerobic capacity, but they can greatly benefit from the additional improvement that can result from running more efficiently, learning how to pace themselves, and greater confidence and motivation.
  • Running is a weight bearing exercise, which means it’s great for bone building. This is especially important for girls, as women are for more prone to osteoporosis than men are. In girls, 90% of peak bone mass will have been laid down by the time they are 18, and boys will have 90% of their peak bone mass by the age of 20. It’s vitally important then, that kids lay down bone mass in their teenage years. Bone mass can keep growing till about the age of 30, when it then holds reasonably steady. In the first few years after menopause, most women go through rapid bone loss which can lead to osteoporosis. We pretty much need to stock our bone bank as full as possible, before the body starts to make withdrawals from the account in later years.
  • Running just makes you feel good. Some of you may disagree, but if you do it right, and don’t try to push yourself too much too soon, it really can make you feel awesome.

How do you encourage your kids to love sport?

The best way to get your kids involved in sport, is to do it yourself. Make sure your kids see you enjoying exercise, not doing it as a chore. Join them in a fun run, kick the ball around with them, play cricket, shoot a few hoops. Yes, sometimes it’s boring, and sometimes there are a million other things we think are more important to do, but if having your kids fit and active is important to you, then the best way to get them involved, is be involved yourself.

At a young age, kids should be encouraged to give as many sports as possible a go, not only the ones they think they are good at. Organised sports, or just mucking around with friends can keep kids physically fit, take their mind off schoolwork, help them to relax, and help them to make friends. In fact I was just talking to a friend yesterday who’s son started a new school this year, where most of the kids in his class were new to the school. He took his handball, picked the sportiest looking kids in his new class, and asked them to play. Hey presto. Instant rapport.

Doing a variety of sports will help with well balanced neuromuscular development, and team sports will help them to understand the selflessness often required for a team to be successful. Sports can also help give kids self-confidence, however if kids are pushed into sport in a win at all costs environment, it could have the opposite effect.

Encourage your child to be patient if they are not achieving their desired results. Show up to their events and cheer their improvements, regardless of whether they win or lose. There are very real physiological reasons why kids may not see massive improvements in their results, even if they are training the house down.

For kids who show promise at an early age, the temptation is to get them training, a lot. However very often, it’s a case of less is more. You’ll want to help them maintain their enthusiasm, whilst their body matures enough to be able to respond better to training.  Understand that adult training programs aren’t going to be effective for kids. Kids and adults bodies work differently. No matter how many kms  you have your 9 year old pounding out each week, (and risking injury) kids’ aerobic systems simply don’t respond to that kind of training in the same way we adults do. It’s important to keep training for kids fun, interesting, and importantly, appropriate to their development.

Hooked on Running kids’ running groups are conducted by highly experienced kids’ running coach Richard Sarkies. If you’d like some help getting your kids moving, and doing the right kind of training, leave your details and we’ll give you a call about a FREE TRIAL at our running groups for kids and teenagers.

Or if you’d like them to get some race experience and instruction, come along to one of our Kids Cross Country Races. The 5 race series begins Feb 22nd. Find out more

How To Prepare For Your School Cross Country

Kids Running Lindfield

At some time in their primary school career, your child will be expected to enter their school cross country. It can be a traumatic event for some kids, whilst others can’t wait till they’re old enough to get amongst it!

Make sure the experience is a great one for your kids, which will leave them wanting to do more. Use these tips on how to prepare for your school cross country.

  • Start to talk to them about the cross country in very general terms. Simply looking over the school calendar for the term and happening to notice when the cross country is on, is enough just to plant the seed initially.
  • Do some exercise yourself. Make exercise just something that your family does, not a big deal
  • Get your child familiar with the course of their school cross country. If you don’t know where they run, ask the school, or ask us. We know a lot of the courses used by local schools. Walk over the course with your child so that they know what to expect.
  • If you can’t go over the actual course, get your child to at least walk over the distance of the race. Don’t say something like, “it’s like running from here to the shops and back”. That can seem an awfully long way to kids. Much better to travel over the distance on foot with them.
  • If they are happy to do some training, go for a run with them, or get them running with friends. Try to get them to run slowly with you. Most kids will take off at the rate of knots and be puffed out after a couple of hundred metres. You don’t want this to happen on the day of the event. They will definitely go too fast at the start of their school cross country if they don’t practice running slowly before hand. Try to teach them ‘Jogging’ pace, or ‘No Puffing’ pace. They’ll still go too hard, but it should pull them back a bit.
  • Practice racing. Nothing makes you better at something than practice. Even if they don’t practice in a formal situation, get them racing against you or against their brothers and sisters, or friends. Remind them to slow down at the start so they have enough puff left at the end.
  • Whilst your child will feel great about themselves if they run the whole distance without stopping, try not to let them get so worked up about the event that they see themselves as a failure if they don’t make the distance.
  • Prepare them for what to do if they do feel too puffed to continue. Walking for even 20 metres can be just enough time to recover and pick up to a jogging pace again. Make sure they know this is ok.

Some kids take naturally to distance running, and absolutely love it from the start.  If your kid’s one of those, here’s a few tips.

  • Go in fun runs with them
  • Time them doing laps around the local oval
  • Emphasise the fun aspect of running
  • Let them decide how much running they want to do. Don’t force them to train if they don’t want to, but do use gentle reminders and encouragement.
  • Practice cross country racing, even if in an informal setting.
  • Do some running with them, or organise for them to train with friends
  • Encourage your child not to be too outcome focused. Placing well in a cross country race is awesome, and your child should be proud of themselves. Remember to acknowledge the effort as well as the achievement though.  At some point, every child, no matter how good they are, will be beaten, and if it’s been all about performance from the start, it can be terribly deflating, especially for those who are a bit fragile. Looking in the mirror and honestly being able to say you’ve done your best can go a long way to easing the disappointment

Awesome Kids Running Training Groups run on weekday afternoons on Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches. Find out more

Cross Country Races run on Sundays in February and March. More info