The lure of the screen and the stress of academics makes many a parent and child lose sight of something more vital – the need for children to play outdoor games. Research has found that it is not just coincidence – that participation in an extracurricular activity like learning music or participating in a sport, actually helps a child focus and do well in academics. An excellent proof of this, is our own ace badminton player Saina Nehwal.
Being a part of a sports program has many benefits. Emmanuel Arockiam, Psychologist and Director of the Centre for Behavioral Science at Loyola Institute of Business Administration says, “Physical activity such as participating in sports and games aids not only in the development of a child’s motor skills, it also helps in the growth of psychosocial health that forms the basis for a holistic development." Learning values like teamwork, motivation, tolerance, fair play are among the benefits of sports. The child becomes disciplined and is able to manage his emotions. “Sports or any form of physical activity releases plenty of feel-good hormones called endorphins. Sports also foster self-esteem and physical and mental maturity to deal with victories or losses,” Emmanuel says.
As parents, how do we ensure that our child develops an interest in sport and zeroes down on an appropriate activity?
We speak to some coaches and parents involved in kids' sports and get their suggestions:
- Identify your child’s enthusiasm and preference for a particular sport
- Encourage your child to participate in a sport, irrespective of her age or skill level
- Expose your child to different sports and activities
- Find out if your child is an extrovert or an introvert. Introverts are better with one-on-one sports and small group sports. An extrovert child may be better suited for a competitive team sport like football, hockey etc.
- Always be supportive, and never on winning. Rather focus on participation, teamwork and above all, in having fun
- Work out the cost and logistics –Does it suit the family income? How much can the family or child invest?
Check if your child is ready for sports
A child’s readiness depends on:
Physical maturity: Does the child have the strength, height, weight, stamina and agility for a particular sport?
Emotional Maturity: Does the child have a positive attitude and emotional readiness to handle physical and mental stress?
A doctor’s certificate is also vital before a child starts any sports program. A complete health check-up will enable the child take up a sport without the risk of developing a chronic illness.
Follow the child’s lead
Sometimes, finding the right activity calls for some experimentation. It is completely normal for a child to switch sports a couple of times. A few tries can help both the child and the parent understand the sport that is a good fit for the child and choose from the list of sports available. Take the example of Megna Baid, mother of two boys aged 8 and 9 years. “My first son was hyperactive as a toddler. When he was 5 years old, I decided to put him in tennis classes. Initially, he enjoyed the sport, but as time went by, he became reluctant to pursue the game. His interest veered towards cricket and I encouraged him to take it up.
Cricket being a team sport, I could see him become more of a team player and develop social skills as well. Of late, he seems to be more inclined towards badminton. I am fine with him trying out different sports as it keeps him physically active and I am happy to stand by him until he finds a sport that interests him in the long run,” she says.
Zero down on the objective and combine it with the child’s potential
Many parents encourage their children to take up a sport which develops particular skill sets that help them in their studies and other interests. For example, Preeti Devi enrolled her younger daughter Ananya (12) for table tennis when she was 7 years old. She says, “Ananya is a very active child and I wanted to channelize her energy productively. My main goal was to enable her to remain focused at any given task. After consulting her teachers and coach, I decided to put her in table tennis. The sport helped her concentrate better, which was what I was hoping for.
However, over the past two years, Ananya has also taken a liking to squash. I am glad she plays squash, as the sport has done wonders with her stamina and height.”
Provide motivation and support
Some children are naturally gifted and quickly pick the nuances of a particular sport. In such a scenario, parental involvement and good training become extremely necessary in keeping the child motivated to play. Arti Kejriwal’s daughter Simran (14), a state level tennis player in Maharashtra, started playing tennis at the age of 6. When she turned 8, her coach realized her potential and increased her practice sessions from 3 to 6 times a week, with both individual and group training. According to Arti, “Simran was full of self-belief when she was a child and that drove her to perform better. A few wins in small tournaments gave her the much-needed confidence.”
As parents, we often wonder how to provide continuous motivation to our children and help them enjoy a sport – without overemphasizing on competition. “Point out the child’s strong points and explain how she can excel/improve further. Encourage the child to read autobiographies of famous sportspersons. Put up motivational posters like ‘Just believe’, ‘In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity’,” says Arti Kejriwal, who accompanies her daughter to most of her tournaments. Arti and her husband Varun sincerely believe that pursuing any form of sport imbues a child with a sense of confidence – a useful lifeskill.
Keep in mind the approach and attitude of the coach
The coach plays a very important role in the way a child perceives the sport, and the attitude the child develops towards it. Parents need to keep the coach’s working style/approach in mind before deciding on a sport. Does the coach focus more on competition or does he work on developing skills, or does he believe in teamwork and having fun? Parents need to see what works for their child and take a call accordingly. Football enthusiast and part-time coach Atul S Nath’s coaching style is all about letting the kids socialize through sports . “I like to let the kids have fun and not make sports practice all work and no play. I encourage the kids to treat the ‘football’ as their friend and companion; letting them enjoy the game,” he says.
As parents, we need to try and support the coach in his decisions, as he knows the game, and understands what works best for the child and the team. Similarly, we should not disagree with the coach in front of the child. Inputs/suggestions and questions should always be discussed privately in a calm manner.
In the end, parents and children need to consider all aspects of the sport and revisit these from time to time, to understand how children feel about the game. Parents need to enjoy the excitement of the sport and the opportunity to learn and grow along with their child.
Harsha Sajnani Ganeriwala is a freelance writer from Chennai