Despite the cold Melbourne winter weather, each Saturday morning I enjoy getting up early and cheering on my 10 and 8 year old step-daughters from the sideline of the netball court. Their games are not ones over which medals are won or lost. In fact even when they lose by large margins (17 plus) they have been known to have such fun that in their own minds they have genuinely believed they were within only a point or two of winning. It has been a real delight to observe the development of their joy in the game in this way.
However, I have noticed in recent times one of the parents of my eldest step-daughter's team has become increasingly vocal in his negative sideline commentary. To someone who is naturally a positive person this is quite difficult to hear. Even more so, when I can see the players on court responding fearfully to his tirade by trying to follow the directions he loudly blurts out: "don't throw the ball to her" "shoot, SHOOT", "oh, what are you doing?!!".
Ultimately, this negativity and sideline aggression has resulted in the collapse of the under 10 girl's netball team at the end of what should have been a fun season. Instead, our daughter has chosen to direct her energy towards other sports this winter while I know other players have sought spots in alternative teams.
What are we doing to our children when we are overzealous about them winning on the sporting field? While the short term impacts might be more obvious, what is the long term impact of this behaviour? I certainly don't have the answers to these questions, however I am quite certain they can't be good.
This recent experience has prompted me to be more conscious of how I behave as a parent on the sideline of the sporting field. I have found myself observing my own behaviour and asking myself 'what values am I demonstrating for my children through my actions?', 'are they values that I hope my child will embrace when they are an adult?' and 'are my actions and words Godly in nature?'.
A school psychologist, Kate Roberts, makes the following recommendations for parents to help promote in their children a healthy view of competition:
â€¢ Moderate questions about winning, losing and goal scoring after a game.
â€¢ Allow coaches to make decisions about a child's skill level, team assignment and playing time. Let the coaches provide suggestions on how to offer positive support. Accepting guidance from kids' coaches is comparable to accepting it from their teachers.
â€¢ Consider and respect your child's motives for wanting to engage in sports. There are many children who are not primarily motivated by winning. Their love of the sport and their desire to be with their friends as part of a team may trump victory. If they win, great! But team affiliation may be primary.
â€¢ View competition as an aspect of team sports, not more or less important than the other components. Making competition more significant impacts performance negatively because of the stress it places on a child to win instead of playing well, having fun and learning through the process. (www.psychologytoday.com)
This seems like sage advice!
God also gives us wise instruction in the bible: "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." Proverbs 22 verse 6 (NIV).
As parents our opportunity for influence in our children's life is relatively short. I pray for God's guidance to help me successfully deliver on his instruction in the lives of the two beautiful step-daughters I have been blessed with.
Merewyn Foran is married, a step mother to two daughters and a fundraising and communications consultant to not for profit organisations in Melbourne.
Merewyn Foran's previous articles may be viewed www.pressserviceinternational.org/merewyn-foran.html