Parents often ask me what should their child be doing to improve their coordination, balance, core motor skills and other types of skills and the simplest answer I can give them is ‘just let them try everything’.
Children at a young age should have the possibility to try out as many sports/games/disciplines as they can. This gives them the opportunity to explore different elements of a sport and improve various skills, even skills they thought they never had. Not all disciplines offer the same characteristics, so having ‘a good all round game’ gives a child, in my opinion, a great advantage.
Taking children out of their ‘comfort zone’ is not done to harm a child; it is done so that he or she can experience something new and challenge themselves with something different (both individually and collectively). They should try new things regardless of the result. Introducing them to numerous things provides them with new, learning experiences, which may benefit them in the future. Whether it is a physical or psychological attribute, there is always something a child can gain.
A common example of the above is when a child, who excels in individual disciplines, struggles in collective ones or vice versa: some children like to depend on others and find it hard to cope when they need to take the initiative. I have worked with children who have a greater physical ability than others, but struggle with the psychological side of things. Encouraging others, allowing others to take control, dealing with failure, mood swings or putting their fate in other peoples’ hands can be things that they may struggle with. Then there are other children who have less physical ability: weaker coordination skills or poor execution of a physical action but on the positive side, are great when being part of a team. These are just examples of why I believe it is important for a child to have a blend of both as they grow up. It will help them in life and will give them an advantage in whatever they want to do in life.
Lloyd Percival (1913-1974), who was a Canadian coach during the 1950’s and 60’s, had the possibility to coach/teach numerous athletes, who later became Olympians. Back in 1974, he published ‘Ten rules for parents of athletes’ in the ‘Sport and Fitness Instructor’ journal, which is the Canadian Fitness Institutes monthly journal. These rules, which have been adapted by many sporting organisations throughout the years, have been taken from his biography:
- Make sure your child knows that win or lose, scared or heroic, you love them, appreciate their efforts and are not disappointed in them.
- Try to be completely honest with yourself about your child’s athletic capability, competitive attitude, sportsmanship and actual level of skill.
- Be helpful, but don’t “coach” them on the way to the track, diamond or court … on the way back … at breakfast … and so on.
- Teach your child to enjoy the thrill of competition, to be “out there trying” to be working to improve their skills and attitudes … to take physical bumps and come back for more.
- Try not to re-live your athletic life through your child in a way that it creates pressure; you fumbled too, you lost as well as you won. You were frightened, you backed off at times, and you were not always heroic. Don’t pressure your child because of your pride.
- Don’t compete with the coach.
- Don’t compare the skill, courage or attitudes of your child with other members of the squad or team, at least in range of him/her hearing.
- You should also get to know the coach so that you can be assured that their philosophy, attitudes, and ethics and knowledge are such that you are comfortable with them taking a prominent role in the development of your child.
- Always remember that children tend to exaggerate, both when praised and when criticized.
- Make a point of understanding courage and the fact that it is relative.
I believe it is our responsibility (teachers and parents) to guide our children and help them make the best possible decisions/choices so that they can improve not only as athletes/students, but also as human beings. They may not realise straightaway that you are trying to help them, but as they grow up, they will gradually understand that you are only trying to help.
The following link is an interesting article taken from ‘The Economist’, where it talks about youngsters ‘burning out’ because of the pressure that comes with certain disciplines. Happy reading!
Mr Canto is AHI's PE teacher and is currently supporting Early Years' colleagues with their respective classes.