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Make the Most of Your Child's Sports Experience


As children venture back to school, they get many opportunities to participate in sports. No matter what the activity, you can help your child understand how to make the most of the experience.

Dr. Kevin Sverduk, chair of the graduate program Sport-Exercise Psychology at Argosy University, Orange County, shares his insights for parents. "We place emphasis on applied sports psychology in our programs. In other words, the psychology of human potential and performance," he says. "We look for ways of helping individuals do what they do to the best of their ability. Not just in the performance, but in the whole experience. It's important for athletes of all ages to raise enjoyment of the activity to the fullest level."

For many children, participation in sports has become more about winning and losing rather than playing "They harbor expectations about the outcome of the game -- from themselves, or from their parents or peers. People tend to worry about things they can't control. They worry about whether they'll win or make the shot instead of focusing on effort, attitude, and motivation," Sverduk says. "This is the paradox of control and paradox of success. The way to give yourself the best chance of achieving success is to stop thinking about it. If you focus instead on things you have control over, you can increase the likelihood of success."

Sverduk recommends talking with your child to shift the focus of the sport away from the results of the game. "Parents can help kids re-focus to things like, energy, effort, and concentration," states Sverduk. "If someone is upset over a loss, you can ask, 'Are you upset because you did all you could and you lost, or because you didn't do all that you could and you lost? Why be upset about losing if you didn't work your hardest?'" This can help a child understand that the responsibility as a team member is to control only the things he or she can control to the best of their ability.

Parental involvement in sports helps to shape the child's value system. "A parent's primary question after a game teaches the child what is important," says Sverduk. "It's far better to ask, 'Did you have fun?' or 'What did you learn?' than 'Did you win?' When parents value improvement and fun over the score of the game, the child begins to place more emphasis on learning and enjoyment. The shift emphasizes the process of the sport rather than the results of the game. It comes back to placing value on things that the child can control," he continues.

Sverduk suggests that parents talk with kids about competition. "The original definition of the word 'competition' was 'to move forward with others.' Our culture has reshaped the meaning, and we now think of competition as moving against others, which breeds anxiety and fear," he says. "But if you think in terms of playing the game with the goal of elevating the skill level of all participants, it breeds involvement, empowerment, and enjoyment. Competition is all about the challenge and doing your best. Winning is important, but it's not enough."

Categories: School-Age, Tweens, Children, Feature Stories,

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