Paddy Upton

Winning with Kids

Research in the United States suggests that of the 40 million children who play sport when they start school, 28 million (70%) give up by the age of 13. When asked why, it was not the sport that kids didn’t like, but rather their experience in the sport, with the main culprits being their coaches and parents’ behaviour. Interestingly, the 70% of kids who give up sport at school is mirrored to some degree in business. Research by three leading HR companies (Forbes, Gallup, Saratoga) on over a million employees from 200 corporations and over 60 different companies, suggest that 74-84% of employees want to leave their jobs. When asked why, the main reason was ‘because of my boss’ – people leave bosses, not companies. It seems coaches, parents and bosses might need do well to pay closer attention to their athletes and employees needs and experiences. After-all, happy people are more engaged and deliver better results than their unhappy or disengaged counterparts.

When it came to coaches, there were common behaviours that kids highlighted as being problematic, with an over-emphasis on winning being the most significant. It causes coaches to yell at kids, to favour the talented, to react badly to mistakes and it compromises fun.

Kids reported that they were tired of being yelled at. It’s a simple equation, no child, or adult for that matter, likes being shouted at. It’s worth asking why coaches do in fact shout at kids around sport participation? What are we trying to accomplish? Shouting seldom helps, and is often done to satisfy the coaches needs to vent their frustration when kids does not meet the coaches often overly high expectations of perfection. Directly related to being yelled at is that kids stopped playing sport because are scared of making mistakes.  Kids also gave up due to lack of participation and opportunity, which happens when coaches favour more talented kids because they have a better chance of making their team win – and thus of making the coach look good.

Underlying many of these problems is a clash of agendas. Most adults want to win, which satisfies their own ego and personal agendas, and kids mostly want to have fun because it satisfies their primary reason to play sport. In fact, two of the biggest school sport studies revealed that kids rated winning as 8th and 11th on their list of priorities. When it came to lack of fun, lack of fun at practices and training was the biggest culprit.

Although most parents mean well and do their best to support their kids, the same United States schools research mentioned above revealed that 36 percent of parents hurt their kids’ development. I suggest these statistics are not unique to the United states and that Indian parents are not immune from them.

As with coaches, the main contributor to parents undermining their kids sporting experience is an over-emphasis on winning, and the associated behaviour which creates pressure, anxiety and fear of failure. Often-times parents have unrealistically high expectations of their children’s sporting acumen. They expect them to never make mistakes, with some parents expecting their kids to be as good as they wish they had been when they were young.

Interestingly, kids cited parents coaching them as more of an annoyance than a support. In fact, parents coaching their children rated as more detrimental than parents criticising their children. My 11-year old daughter plays soccer and is an accomplished surfer. In the car on the way to competitions, I always ask her what she wants from me as her parent. (She is aware that I have some knowledgeable of coaching). Every time she tells me the same thing, “I just want you to be there to watch me.” And in keeping with advice from experts, she is also very clear that the journey home is not the time for a coaching workshop. My job is to be her dad.

Some recommendations to avoid being one of those 36 percent of parents who ruin their kids’ development, include; don’t over-emphasize winning; give your child the same love and support whether they win, lose, play well or have a bad day; let the coach do the coaching, never criticise your child; and ask what support they want from you as their parent, and then deliver on that. However much we think we know about sport, and however well we want our kids to do, the best thing we can do is to simply love watching our kids participate, and then tell them that. After-all, they are kids, who mostly play sport for fun, to get exercise and to be with their friends.

Where possible, try and find a coach who does not yell, who does not make a fuss when kids make mistakes, who believes more in helping your kids learn, grow and have fun rather than driving them like an army sergeant to win, and who not only teaches your kids to improve their game, but helps them learn to make decisions for themselves. Our children will be faced with a greater array of decisions as teenagers and young adults than we ever faced. Included are that many of the decisions will be alluring yet harmful and dangerous. exploring the journey towards personal and professional success, sincere relationships, lasting contentment and an all-round purposeful life.

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