Be a Cheerleader for Your Champ

By Amy Beaulieu

Whether engaged in travel soccer, swimming, organized or recreational football, gymnastics, or special events such as the Healthy Kids Fun Run held in Arlington, VA, sports have become a major avenue for the social and emotional growth of youth. Parents of young athletes play a vital role in ensuring that experiences gained on the field, in the arena or gym, or on the race course positively impact this development.

According to www.kidshealth.org, “Organized sports can help kids grow in many ways. From soccer to fencing, sports offer chances for kids to learn and master skills, work with their peers and coaches, and challenge themselves in a safe environment. They learn the value of practice and the challenge of competition.”

Unfortunately, over-eager parents potentially overshadow the positive reinforcement children receive through participating in these sports. Headlines chronicle recent rashes of parent-incited disputes and violence at youth sporting events; parents seeking to live vicariously through their children force young athletes into sports in which they have little to no interest; success-seeking moms and dads set their sights on athletic scholarships well before kids are ready; and an adult-lead disregard for the adage of “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’” sometimes prevails. 

According to www.athleticinsight.com, the online journal of sports psychology, “A panel of youth sport experts rated parental behavior and involvement in youth sport as unacceptable and needing improvement … Forty-one percent of individuals who participated in an online survey rated the behaviors of parents at games as a “problem,” while forty-six percent stated that parent misbehavior and over-involvement was a top negative aspect of youth sport programs.”

With a few behavioral changes, parents can end the too-serious trend in youth sports. To maintain fun, positive athletic experiences for kids, parents should keep the following in mind:

-Only words of encouragement should be shouted from the sidelines. Criticism damages developing self esteem.

-Encourage sportsmanlike conduct. Set an example by congratulating the opposing team or other competitors.

-Do not criticize coaches or officials. Kids will lose respect for coaches and for you.

-Allow children the freedom to participate in the sport of their choosing; if they do not enjoy a sport, don’t force it.

-Don’t pressure kids for a win. Encourage a strong performance, regardless of the outcome.

-Stress the value of self-improvement. Not all children will be athletic scholarship-material, but all athletes should be encouraged to work on their skills in a positive way.

-Above all, keep sports activities fun!

By creating a favorable sports environment through positive, encouraging behavior, parents teach their children the value of sports participation and foster the development of fit, confident young men and women. 

Amy Beaulieu is the Marine Corps Marathon Communications Coordinator. Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon’s (MCM) Healthy Kids Fun Run. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied. On Oct. 27, kids ages 5 to 12 will participate in the Healthy Kids Fun Run, organized by the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA. Registration for the event is open at www.marinemarathon.com. Families can register kids individually for the one-mile fun run or schools and organizations can register groups of students by contacting Amy Beaulieu at [email protected]

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