Nothing beats a good, fun game of rugby (or any sport for that matter). The main intention of school sport should always be to have fun and enjoy the game.
Sure, for a selected few, it becomes a profession later in life and, therefore, their livelihood and then there’s obvious pressure to perform. But what about in a school context? Are parents taking it too seriously? Are they cultivating an unhealthy sense of competitiveness in their children?
It’s one thing to be excited next to the field, supporting and shouting your lungs out for your child’s team - if it’s in good spirits. It’s a completely different thing if you’re shouting at your child (or someone else’s child) for not catching a ball, making a bad move, or smiling on the field.
Gone are the days when a school sport was just a game. And that’s a sad reality. Where should one draw the line?
Yes, being competitive, persistent, and goal-oriented is good. We all need those qualities in life and it’s important to teach it to our children. But when are you going too far and how can you identify it?
The danger of early specialisation
Even though school sports, or organised sports in general, are excellent for so many reasons, more children are encouraged to start playing in a proper team at a younger age, and also to start specialising in one single sport sooner.
Specialisation makes kids more susceptible to burnout. According to the National Alliance for Sports, 70% of kids who play competitive sports burnout and quit by the age of 13. There is this myth that getting better means training younger, training harder, training more.
As a parent, you’ll realise soon in life if people comment on your child’s skills or abilities - whether that be their ball skills, agility, or hand-eye coordination. This, if you’re not careful, can undermine you as well as your child. Take the compliments gracefully, but don’t let it form a picture in your mind - or your child’s mind of what type of sportsman/woman they will be one day. They might just end up being a pianist and that’s amazing - if that is what makes them happy!
How to know if the game has become too competitive
- Your child is never smiling on/off the field on game day and seem too nervous than is necessary.
- You are shouting insults to other team members or the coach.
- You are scolding your child for making mistakes.
- You are never asking the question: “Did you have fun?”
- Your child becomes more worried about which team they will be on than whether they’ll be able to play at all this season.
How you can combat an unhealthy sense of competitiveness
- Remind your child that it’s about having fun above all else.
- Encourage your child to do their best and ensure them that their best will always be enough.
- Don’t let your children start with organised sports too soon.
- Avoid the risk of your child specialising in one sport too soon in life.
When you think about it, is the intense training at a young age, little family time due to constant training, and the severe injuries really worth it? Don’t be the parent who hijacks the joy from your child’s school sport years.
Competitiveness adds a special element to sport and should be encouraged, as long as it’s healthy. Many kids thrive on competition - it’s what drives them. But others would much rather play the game on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team. You need to know your child and pay attention to their state of happiness.
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