It is important for youngsters to play for the sake of fun
By JITENDRA JOSHI
Few things bring more happiness than the sight of a happy, bubbly child. And I got to see one recently when I was visiting a friend’s place. While we both were engrossed in our talks, a little figure dashed into the house.
It was my friend’s eight-year-old son, Amit, back home after a game of football with his colony friends. With a mischievous smile plastered on his face, a twinkle in his eyes and a happy spring in his feet, I could literally see the excitement of the game still bursting from his body.
Just as he was frolicking towards me, his father asked him “Toh, aaj jeeta ki haara?” (“Did you win or lose?”)
That sentence stung Amit so badly, that I could clearly see his excitement level, his eagerness to talk about the game and the joy in his eyes come crashing down in a second! Halfway toward me, he hung his head down in shame, nodded in negative and quietly retrieved into his room. What a heart-wrenching sight it was.
His father had not even realised what a grave “crime” he had just committed. I use the word “crime” because his father had killed something: his son’s happiness.
See also: Let Children Be Children
Winning or losing the game was surely the last thing on Amit’s mind. He had gone out to play with his friends because he loved to – because it was fun.
Why can’t we, parents, just leave it at that?
Being a part of an amateur sports management company, I interact with several sports parents on a regular basis and I have noticed this behaviour among many of them. Being a parent myself, it has propelled me to share my views on this.
So, what are we doing wrong?
While this might not be a definitive list of parental traits when it comes to dealing with children and their sports habits, it does address some of the critical aspects where parents go wrong and how it could be addressed.
She plays for fun, and that’s okay
Who doesn’t remember the sports day celebrations when they were in school? For me, it was a day filled with excitement, running around and just having fun. Things haven’t changed.
Children, even today, love sports day. And the reason is because they associate sports with fun. But what used to be pure fun for children is no longer the same.
Leave alone big events like sports day; these days many parents create such a brouhaha even when their children are playing an innocent game of gully cricket with their friends.
We start over-intellectualising and seeing our child’s games or love for any particular sport with a competitive lens, and even worse, start forcing (sometimes unknowingly) the child to do the same.
The moment we bring competition into the picture, a child’s perception about playing games or sports starts changing. The pressure of competition kills the joy of playing and the child starts dreading it.
In this rat race to become “the superstar mum and dad”, we have become extremely calculative and allow our child to play only if we foresee some advantage from it. That mindset needs to change. Let them play just for fun.
Sports is a great teacher
A playground is a school – in itself. It teaches the child those skills which will be essential and beneficial for her as they grow up and start facing the challenges of the real world.
Unfortunately, an alarming 60% of parents feel that only studies matter and playing, is a waste of time. We say things like “He’s always playing. When will she study?” or “Khel ke kya seekhega?” (“what will you learn from playing?”)
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We fail to see that playing sports teaches a child those skills that no textbook can teach. Here are some common examples:
- That last crucial over whether he bowls or bats or fields is when he learns to handle stress. In sports one quickly learns to focus on the next play and not the end-result.
- When he loses a game (and that will happen often), he learns to exercise self-control. It is a critical skill to learn “how to lose”. It’s OK to feel upset after losing but NOT OK to act in that anger.
- When the child is part of a team, he quickly understands he must play a role in the team and the importance of teamwork.
Building character through sports
Doesn’t every parent want their child to grow up with solid values and strong virtues? We lecture them, tell them stories, go out of our way – just to inculcate good values in them.
We fail to see, that one tool that can do the job most effectively – which is already a very dear part of the child’s life – is sports. Let me share an incident that got me to believe that playing sports gives us the mammoth opportunity to teach moral values to our kids.
I happened to be in Hyderabad last year during my 11-year-old niece’s school sports day. Like most parents in the stadium, I along with my sister and brother-in-law were happily cheering for the young ones while they were jumping in sacks or running with lemon-in-spoon. Next was my niece Sreeja’s running race.
The whistle blew and the girls flew. Just a few seconds into the race, we saw one of the girls fall on the track with a sprained ankle, writhing in pain.
While the remaining girls kept running faster, Sreeja stopped and ran back towards her injured friend, helped her up and took her to the ground where there was help available. That was the moment – it blew us all off!
In fact, everyone in the stadium forgot about the race winner and started clapping for Sreeja and her selfless act.
A parent walked up to my sister and told her, “Your daughter has such good values”.
Tears of joy welled up in my sister’s eyes. It was indeed a moment of pride for both the parents.
I wanted to know how she managed to instill such a great virtue of kindness into that little soul. To which she later told me about the match-day policy that she along with her husband had formed.
First, after every match, irrespective of the result, the ritual would be to go out and celebrate. It would be like a family pizza party day. With this policy, the parents have smartly taught the child that winning or losing are just a part of life. Victory and defeat, both should be embraced with a smile.
Second, on the way back home from any sports competition or match – whether she has won or lost – the conversation on the journey back home would not revolve around the game.
That would be the time when she and my brother-in-law spoke to their daughter about what they loved about her behaviour during the game, how proud they were when she went and shook hands with the opponent team, how happy they were to see her touch her coach’s feet after the win.
That was the golden time frame when their child was most receptive and they used it effectively to inculcate great values in her. Sreeja’s noble gesture during the race was a result of all those non-preachy talks on good values that her parents had had with her all along.
Therefore, if we stop or reprimand our child from playing, we are not only slowing his or her natural learning process but also missing the opportunity to teach them important life values.
Instead, we, as parents need to use sports as that tool with which we teach our children the most important virtues of life, which will stay with them for a lifetime.
You didn’t learn biology to become a biologist
Have you ever found yourself pushing your child too hard to win or constantly criticising your child’s game or comparing them with others? If yes, you need to stop!
School curriculum already burdens a child with a lot of stress. They are inundated with career-centric talks in school and at home too.
Now, if we start bringing sports and playing – an aspect that helps the child unwind and recreate – into this career equation, imagine what’s going to happen to the child’s stress level?
Forget a child. Even adults can’t handle this kind of pressure. And forget a career, the child might stop playing altogether.
It’s the journey that matters
Parents need to stop over-thinking and just let her play for the joy of it. It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
Making the child fall in love with the game is our job – and we need to do that by being supportive and encouraging. If we are successful in doing that, your child might even take it up as a career one day.
Trust your coach
These days, most parents, enrol their children in sports academies to acquire the required skills to excel in the game. Such institutes have dedicated coaches and trainers who are responsible for bringing out the best in every child.
While most coaches always have a strategy in place for every player, we as parents feel that the coach is not doing justice to his ward’s potential.
“Ye coach mere bachche pe dhayan kam deta hai” (“this coach is not paying enough attention to my child”)
“He always makes my daughter the goal keeper”
“Why do you put him as the 8th man in the match?”
These types of thoughts and conversation are very common amongst parents. In the long run, it does nothing good but causes friction, not only between the parents and the coach but also amongst other parents.
All these when the child is not even concerned whether he is the opener or goalkeeper.
Parents’ unreasonable demands only make the child feel embarrassed as he knows he is not an opener and is happy batting later. But the parent is not willing to admit that and ends up making things difficult for all parties concerned.
By being over inquisitive and intrusive about our child’s game, either by constantly checking with the coach on the performance, or even worse – self-appointing yourself as the second coach, we are just creating the perfect recipe for disaster.
According to a research, a shocking 70% of children drop out of organised sports by age 13, and one of the top reasons is the negative intervention of parents in their sports life.
Your child just needs your positive guidance and support. The coach is there to teach the child and we need to trust his expertise.
Are you over-involved or under-involved?
If the only thing you are discussing with your child is her game strategies, winning tricks and feedback, or find yourself permanently chauffeuring her to and from sports practices, or all your social interactions, both offline and online, only revolves around your child’s achievements in sports, then you are an obsessive sports parent!
Being constantly hyper and anxious about our child’s game, is only going to intimidate your child. Studies show that spending more money and investing heavily in your child’s sport actually makes them less motivated, not more.
On the other end of the spectrum, being under-involved is also hazardous. I’ve seen many parents on their phone while the child is playing the match. There is no genuine interest in her game.
Some parents feel that by buying the latest sports equipment or by dropping them to the match ground, they qualify to be called good sports parents.
Well, that’s not how it works. Both, being over-involved as well as under-involved is dangerous for the child’s wellbeing.
What the child needs from us is our positive involvement and genuine interest in her game. Above all it’s the assurance that “I’m here just for you and I want to see you have fun” is what the child wants.
We need to savour each moment in the child’s game because those are the moments which will remain with us for a lifetime – not her victories and defeats! Again, it is the journey that matters and not the destination.
Are you a true sports parent?
I still remember, on my exam day, just before leaving for school, my father would come by my side and tell me one thing very gently “do your best, come what may rest”. That statement had magical powers – it soothed my frayed nerves instantly and has stayed with me forever.
It reassured me that my father will be there for me – even if I don’t score high in my exams; that marks, is not the criteria on which his love for me is based; that I just need to go there and do my best. Now, as an adult, the same statement plays in my head while answering life’s exams.
As parents, we just need to reassure our children that good marks or other capabilities are not the reason why we love them. We love them for who they are.
Every parent wants only one thing for his or her child – good health and happiness. By allowing them to play sports, we are blessing them with both. Being a sports parent is not tough. It’s about letting the child have fun with sports.
Now, that’s what all childhoods should be made of, isn’t it?