What is athleticism, you ask? It is both physical and mental.
- strength and speed
- confidence in one’s physical and mental abilities
- the ability to work with others on a team well
- the ability to strategize and make quick and effective decisions
- the ability to pair thought and action
Let’s look at ten ways to build these traits in your child:
1.Encourage your child to find a physical activity that he enjoys. Then, stick with it.
It is key that your child finds enjoyment in the activity. It doesn’t mean that times won’t come when he complains about being tired or not feeling like it, or have years when he doesn’t like an instructor, coach, or team. It does mean that if you know an activity brings your child joy, you encourage him to continue at it.
2. Teach him that practice is just as important as game time or performance time.
Make practices fun. If you can volunteer to coach and you think your child would like that, then do so. Show him that you look forward to sitting at practices or classes and observing. Your support just by watching is meaningful. Don’t sit by and stare at your phone. Watch, praise, and encourage!
3. While sports can be demanding of parental time, it is well worth the fun memories that will last a lifetime.
Remember, these are the years you will be driving around everywhere taking your children different places. Yes, you are their taxi service, their cheer squad, their comfort when they get down. Yes, it is crazy, hectic, and feels overwhelming sometimes. Do it anyways.
This is the season of childhood where you will invest of yourself (your time, your finances, your energies) and you will deal with exhaustion. By the same token, you will reap the rewards of a child who looks back and has happy memories, remembers your presence, your encouragement, and your smile!
4. Don’t make winning synonymous with enjoyment.
Your child will pick up your attitude if you are down when his team loses. Hold your emotions close and keep them in check. Your child is a child. The game or performance may not be what you hoped for in terms of a win or perfection, but remember, your child is looking to you for a positive response. A positive response means focusing on the stuff that did go well. Only after that positive feedback, should you bring up things he could improve on. (Think: Imagine yourself having completed a project at work. Your boss then offers criticism before giving any positive feedback or acknowledgement of your efforts and time. You’d feel awful, right?) Remember this order: praise, acknowledgement, and THEN constructive feedback.
5. Above all, focus on the enjoyment aspect of the sport.
Teaching your child to enjoy the sport means teaching him to have fun win or lose, to be resilient, to try his personal best, and to grow from each game. He should enjoy the positive relationships with peers and coaches along the way. If he isn’t focusing on these things, you probably aren’t either. Step back, correct your own body language and focus, and then re-enter the situation.
6. Don’t make rewards contingent on a good performance.
Don’t be the parent that promises your child a treat after the game if he does well or his team wins. Make rewards or treats (i.e. fun outings) something you do routinely regardless of the score. Your job is to create positive memories or associations around the physical activity, not just the winning.
7. If your child falls, has a bad day, or loses, teach him to get back up and out there!
Don’t hyper-focus on the shoe that isn’t tied when your child is small, or the ball that looks like it is coming his way when he isn’t ready. Say, “It’s OK!” and encourage him to keep on going. Don’t fret or make a big deal over small things.
8. If your child struggles, don’t walk out on the field or the court.
He has an instructor or coach for a reason. Teach your child to respect who’s in charge of the activity. Don’t provide advice from the sidelines or interfere in a coach’s instructions. Allow your child to gain from the encouragement, advice, and constructive criticism of another adult who is invested in helping him grow.
9. Teach mental toughness.
Your child is bound to deal with setbacks, insecurities, and feelings that he is not as good as another player at some point in time. Losses can hit hard, errors can be made, and even good coaches will yell and get emotional. It is OK.
Your child will learn that it is normal to make mistakes, to be corrected and receive correction, to handle adversity despite best efforts, and to get back up and try again. If you coddle your child and always come to his defense even when you know he made an error, he won’t come to accept responsibility or value personal growth. Try and strike a balance between being a supportive parent and helping your child to stand tall and grow in character.
10. Teach body confidence.
This can be through any physical exercise, be it hiking, walking outside, swimming, team sports, or dance. There is no substitute for being physically and mentally strong and feeling confident about that strength.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:13 NKJV