The aim of this is to try and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for parents to briefly acquire the knowledge to assist in being the best sporting parent they can be… So strap yourself in!
Having worked in the development setting for over a decade (since 2002) and having now transitioned into professional sport full-time (NRL) I feel I have a grasp on what it takes to build an all-round athlete.
I’m going to do the ‘Un-Australian’ thing now and pump my own tyres, and acknowledge that I’ve also had the privilege of being a part of producing some of the country’s current professional athletes from Socceroos, NRL players, Tennis Players, and Combat Athletes.
With stints in both the public and private schooling systems I also feel I have a good platform to pass judgement. So here goes….
1. What Sport Should My Son/Daughter Play?
This is a very general question and in many cases in influenced by the nature of sport you as a parent played. In saying so there are 2 general rules I would adhere to in order to build the all-round athlete. Firstly, choose a ball based sport. This is for hand-eye coordination and will continue to be of benefit particularly prior to, during, and following your child going through the awkward adolescent stages otherwise known as Peak Height Velocity (https://www.scienceforsport.com/peak-height-velocity/). This is usually one of the sport’s most Australian children will eventually ‘Specialize’ in (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8Bb2w00HoY&t=22s). Secondly, choose either or (and rotate between them seasonally) an aerobic based sport/ or a movement based sport (i.e. Cross-Country and Martial Arts respectively). This is because the former will build a solid base cardiovascular system (which will pay dividends in their ball sport later), and the latter enhance kinaesthetic awareness (http://www.project-active.co.uk/articles/kinesthetic-learning-in-sports-fitness) which is basically how their body responds/moves within its surrounding environment (also significantly contributing to the positive transfer in their specialized sport particularly with reference to PHV). I can hear the Elite Coach or Strength and Conditioning Coach now- But Tiger Woods specialized early?! And if you think they can succeed otherwise you’re kidding yourself… Well where is he now? (https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2017/jun/01/footage-shows-tiger-woods-failing-sobriety-test-before-arrest-video)
2. How Much Should my Child Train?
This is the most common question I’m often asked and one that could be debated all day. But I will give you a general rule of thumb. Firstly, establish what is your child’s chronological age (Age Since Birth). Secondly, add up all the hrs your child plays sport whether it be competition or practice and note the difference. It is recommended for your child to not exceed in training hrs their chronological age on average p/week. Give a take a week here or there as we all know things can blow out in big competition based periods over a season… But on average! The only clause to this which is a discussion within itself outside this blog post, are those sports such as Gymnastics or Diving that specialize earlier than your usual sports, or technical sports such as Tennis that require repeated frequent exposure of movement patterns over a sustained period of time.
3. What Is an Elite Academy?
One of my biggest gripes in the youth/development settings in the number of ‘Elite’ academies that have, are, and will continue to pop up and be available. Oh wait- in years to come the name might change to something like ‘High-Performance’ too. In many instances these terms have arisen from ex-players/ coaches starting their own businesses where they have seen a ‘gap’ in their sporting market which will allow them to draw a full-time income. Namely capitalising on you the ill-informed parent trying to be the best parent you can be… and to be honest I don’t blame you either. Now that you are becoming more informed the biggest problem with this is that the participating youth are encouraged to take part all-year round, and in many instances perform exercises/ activities/ or training volumes that replicate their adult heroes. This is a recipe for disaster as it compromises the above multi-sport approach detailed above, because somethings got to give right? Not to mention the various stages of physical development that your child is going through at their own unique individual rate. Particularly if you adhere to your new found weekly training schedule…
4. The Problem With Today's Youth
For some strange reason it’s apparently more dangerous for our youth today to play outside at your local park? Where they are likely to really hone their skills and physical literacy. Or is it more a case of being more convenient for you as parents to book your child into their local academy/squad/lessons so you don’t have to keep them occupied/spend the ‘quality time’ with them, but yet once again be convinced by other sporting parents that their son/daughter is getting the extra ‘edge’ by participating in a particular ‘elite’ academy. The biggest thing missing from today’s youth is their lack of exposure to ‘Un-structured’ play as opposed to ‘Structured’ Play. See Link (https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2017/04000/Incorporating_Unstructured_Free_Play_into.3.aspx) to understand the difference. The former is what enables your child to build the skills and understanding of not only the game, their body and it’s surrounding environment, combined with any equipment (i.e. Football, Racquet, or Stick) they may use in their sport. In other words give the ‘elite’ academy a miss and encourage your child to pop down to the local park with their friends and ‘Play.’
5. Make It Fun!
The number 1 reason for youth dropout in sport is a lack of fun (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311064561_Why_ChildrenYouth_Drop_Out_of_Sports ). Yes, I completely agree sport is about winning and losing because it is the lessons from both that contribute to building a well-rounded person through sport. Find ways to make it fun, such as getting your child’s team mates over to play, organise social activities with the families within your child’s team, create a rotating system where parents transport other team mates to games, suggest sleep overs at team mates houses before games. All of these things contribute to the experience/memories of playing a sport as you can see from the examples provided it’s not only the sport itself but extrinsic factors we as adults often oversee (through a frantic rush of fitting everything in to our busy schedules) that contribute to the fun sporting experience.
6. Constructive Feedback
The first thing you as a parent want to do is tell your son/daughter what they did wrong as soon as a game/match is over. I can tell you this is the most annoying thing for any youth to hear particularly if they are in any essence of the word competitive. With a loss, to be truthful they will be utterly pissed off- and so they should be! It’s not the opportunity for you as a parent to seize the moment. Firstly, in most cases you are not their coach. And if you have been appointed the team coach (in your local junior competition) it would be very rare you have been selected based on your credentials but rather your ‘passion’ that could be described as white line fever, or other parents simply don’t want to commit to the role, in the event a weekend of skiing should present it’s ugly head. Secondly, in most instances the better an individual becomes at a sport, and how they play within it they often already know what they could have done better.
7. How to Build Resilience
This is an area we as adults continue to harp on, whether it be various generational gaps etc. nevertheless one that shouldn’t be ignored. So here is my point, it is not what you tell your child that they develop resilience but what they see, interpret, and experience through their ever-changing environment. Referring back to Point 1, if you both parent and child choose a sport (note I said both choose) stick it out. There are going to be both positive and negative experiences throughout the season, that’s life! Encouraging your child to only perceive the positives is setting them up to fail not only in sport- but in life! … and don’t get me started on participation medals/trophies! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qMNQj_tEj4 ). One way to build resilience is ensuring they see out whatever commitment they make. Seasons are short, what’s one negative experience outweighed by the multiple positive experiences created by you the good parent?
8. Should I Seek a Strength and Conditioning Coach?
This is another question I receive frequently. In which case I want you to understand one of 2 things. Firstly, is it for physical betterment (such as size, strength, power etc.) or secondly, enhanced movement quality (speed, agility, mechanics, spatial awareness). Most parents feel their child is lacking in one of the 2 previously mentioned aspects without factoring in growth (maturation rate) or the skills required within various sports. Exposure within multiple sports is usually sufficient to enhance these qualities and remember I’m talking about sporting scenarios, not factoring in any youth weight (obesity) issues. However in other instances factoring in Point 2 some parents may choose to supplement their childs training with another stimulus such as what we call ‘Athletic Development’. In which case such qualities can be enhanced without necessarily targeting ‘sport specific’ movement qualities (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8Bb2w00HoY&t=22s ). Seeking a Strength and Conditioning Coach that has a history of coaching youth should always be desired. Examples include Propel Perform, Athletes Authority, or Dynamo Athletic.
Now that your equipped with the 8 steps to being a good parent, no doubt your child will be in better stead to not only enhancing their sporting prowess but becoming a well rounded individual through the assistance of sport and the participation in the athletic arena.