Do you encourage your little ones to play kids competitive sports? Does the idea of heckling from the sideline with the other soccer moms make you cringe? Or are you waking up your kids at 5 am for swim practice before school? There is a fine line between encouragement and pressure, and as with all parenting issues, no-one has the perfect formula.
As a Brit living in the US, I’ve been stewing this week over how to approach this post. My nationality is relevant because the US is a nation of sportsmen, and the culture in the UK is slightly different. My attitude has changed in many aspects since moving here and kids competitive sports is one area I where have surprised myself.
The royal wedding has us reminiscing on the Motherland this week. We moved to the US from the UK four years ago and I’ve enjoyed the excitement of the wedding form both sides of the pond. When I first moved here I was quickly taken back by how quickly kids competitive sports gets serious. From the proudly displayed ‘Team Captain’ sign on our neighbor’s lawn to the sheer volume of hours kids were committing to practice. It was a whole lot of extra parenting too… rallying from practice to games and working on skills at home.
Why I Have Changed My Opinion on Competitive Sports
Although my daughter has enjoyed dance class and swim club in the past, we had never been part of any kids competitive sports teams. This year my daughter (then 7yrs) started soccer. She had been pestering me for a while and despite thinking it was a strange choice for her personality, I figured we’d give it a go.
This year has been a total transformation, my little princess has found her independence and continues to surprise me with the person she is becoming. I put a considerable amount of her blossoming down to her experience with soccer. It has opened my eyes to the opportunities kids’ competitive sports create for our little ones and I can’t wait to get the Twins started when they’re a little older.
10 Positive Changes I Saw After Starting Competitive Sports
1 – Confidence. My daughter is a social, chatty girl which can be misinterpreted as self-confidence. She’s actually a real worry-wart and struggles with a little anxiety. Soccer has massively changed this and I she is starting to feel like she can do anything she puts her mind to.
2 – Friendship and comradery. Socialization and a sense of community are so important to kids (and adults). Having a group of friends outside of school is wonderful and because they’re working together as a team, they appreciate each other’s value.
3 – Focus. We have always had issues with my daughter’s concentration. Teachers were concerned about the possibility of ADHD because she struggles to focus on tasks. It may be a total coincidence, but she has never worked so hard as she has since we started soccer. Her attitude to work is so much better and I suspect it’s helped by the physical activity and learning to concentrate on what’s she’s doing on the pitch.
4 – Lose like a champ. Like many kids, Elsie is a really bad loser. When we took her to watch professional hockey, she cried because the team we were supporting lost. She couldn’t understand why we still enjoyed watching the game. This one has been tough to break but she’s finally dealing with losing and celebrating winning appropriately.
5 – Teamwork. When she first started soccer, Elsie was very concerned that other players were ‘better than her’. But she has come to the realization that different players have different skills and its the combination of everyone’s strengths that make a great team. She used to be so focused on not being able to run fast… now it doesn’t matter as long as she has something else to offer the team: see #1 above!
6 – Get Tough(er). My dear little princess, she is not the rough and tumble type and I knew it was going to be a shock to the system. We often have tears at practice and games but she’s learning how to shake it off, brush down and get back to it. I honestly thought she would want to quit once she got accidentally kicked a few times or slipped and fell. But despite the tears, she can not wait for next season to start and has begged to do it again.
7 – Parental support. The arrival of the Twins has been tough on my girl. She had me to herself for a long time and then became one of three overnight. Because she’s so independent it’s easy to forget to find time for our older child but when I’m booked in for weekly practice and games, I have the opportunity to give her your full attention. Giving her a shout out for encouragement gives her a real boost and Dad taking her for ice cream after games has been great for them too.
8 – Working hard. Elsie is a very bright girl and aces her school tests despite not doing the classwork. This has not been good for instilling the benefits of hard work. But she is not a natural athlete, and she finds it frustrating. But when she noticed she had more ball control from practicing it was a light-bulb moment. It is worth working hard after all.
9- Following Instructions. Recalling and following instructions are not my daughter’s strengths. She is not defiant, she’s just a daydreamer… I was exactly the same. I warned the coach at the start of the season that he will need to remind her to listen. But it got better, fast. She was listening because she was interested and she wanted to do well. This has helped off the pitch too, because it’s all practice for day to day life.
10- Have fun! Ultimately, she is having so much fun.
Many of these benefits are also applicable to independent activities like piano playing or dance class. But the inherent desire for the team to succeed gives all players a boost that intensifies the effect. For more parental thoughts on the benefits of sports on the mind, check out this article from NPR. Soccer has done nothing but good for my daughter and we can’t wait to get stuck into next season.
Being the slightly awkward Brit mom in the team, I’m still working on my pitch-side heckling…