By Ross Flowers
An Expert’s Answers to Parents’ Questions About Raising a Healthy, Balanced, Happy Athlete
Parent: When should I allow my child to begin a sport?
Introducing your child to sports at an early age (four to nine) is often a great way to support motor skill development, mental processing, problem solving, social awareness, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Some well-run sport programs can also teach or reinforce the positive values and character strengths that parents are providing at home. For example, martial arts teach structure, discipline, respect, patience, and self- control, along with fundamental and fine-tuned motor skills. All of these complement sound parenting.
As a parent, you may decide your youngster is ready to participate in sports; your child may likewise express interest in participating in organized sports, particularly if he has an older sibling already participating. You then have the opportunity to research the sport of interest, identify participating leagues or teams in your area, and find an appropriate program that teaches the fundamentals of the sport.
Parent: Why should I allow my child to begin a sport?
Besides being a fun activity and an opportunity to get outside, interact with other kids, run around, and maybe even get dirty, sports or any athletic activity can also be an opportunity for children to learn and develop motor skills. Two of the more basic benefits of athletics are learning how the body functions and developing coordination skills. On top of that, emotions naturally develop with athletic participation and competition. Children are able to experience their bodies in different ways by feeling the rush of adrenaline and excitement as they anticipate an action, the surge of energy flowing through their muscles and joints while in action, the physical, mental, and emotional challenge of competing with others, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with accomplishment and success.
Here is a brief list of what children can develop through participation in athletics:
1. Strong physical capabilities
2. Emotional awareness and understanding
3. Analytical reasoning
4. Decision-making skills
5. Leadership qualities
6. Personal responsibility skills
7. Team awareness and the ability to work as a team member
8. Communication skills
9. The ability to listen to and accept feedback
10. The ability to follow directions
11. An appreciation for time and time management
12. The effort and dedication needed to commit to achieving a goal
Parent: Is there an ideal age to allow a child to begin playing a sport?
No. But some sports, like gymnastics or tennis, provide opportunities for younger athletes to excel at an earlier age, and there may be rewards for early acceleration in a sport. For one example, a seven-year-old tennis prodigy may attract the attention of a professional development coach, which may provide an opportunity to train at an elite academy with the chance of becoming a professional tennis player. So the early development of fundamental tennis skills may prove to be valuable. However, whether or not the child who begins playing tennis between the ages of four and six will become a prodigy by age seven depends on a number of variables, such as internal drive, commitment to training, access to tennis facilities and equipment, successful skills development, being the offspring of professional tennis players, or having passionate family members who encourage their children to play.
In short, the ideal age to allow a child to begin playing a sport is when she is offered the opportunity and enthusiastically accepts, or when she expresses interest without prodding.
Parent: What’s the best way for me to prepare my young child for the commitment to and/or sacrifice of sport?
To ask this question about a young child interested in playing sports suggests that you are over-analyzing the simplicity of play. Allow your child to play freely and engage in a fun activity without being over-talked, over- prepared, or psyched-up. Your son or daughter is a child— allow him or her to learn how to adapt to schedule changes, new activities,developing friendships, learning new skills, or communicating with a coach.
A better question to ask is:
“How should I prepare myself for my child’s commitment to sport?”
Begin by remembering that your child has the opportunity to discover his or her own interests. As a parent, you can and should be part of the decision, but let your child decide which sport he or she likes. Here are some ways you can achieve that:
~ Play freely with your child.
~ Introduce a variety of sports to him or her.
~ Attend sporting events together.
~ Read about sports with your child.
Available at Giles Consulting Group, Dr. Flower’s website.
In Introducing Your Child to Sports, Dr. Flowers offers a unique 360° perspective – as a noted sport psychologist, former elite athlete and coach, and father of young athletes – to answer parents’ questions about their child’s participation in sports.
Within the topics of sport culture, skill development, health and safety, competition, and more, he addresses questions such as:
• How do I choose the right athletic program and/or coach for my child?
• What are appropriate rewards for playing/doing well?
• What if my child wants to quit before the season is over?
• What are the best things to focus on when discussing a performance?
Here are a few excerpts from the book:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ross Flowers, Ph.D. is an experienced sport and performance psychologist, executive coach, author and speaker. He is a partner in Giles Consulting Group, LLC and on staff at San Diego State University. Ross teaches, designs and implements skills development programs for culturally diverse individuals, teams and organizations in business, sport, military and academia. Ross is also the author of Introducing Your Child to Sports: An Expert’s Answers to Parents’ Questions about Raising a Healthy, Balanced, Happy Athlete.
Ross has expertise in assessing individual attributes such as; self-confidence, decision-making ability, leadership, clear communication, emotional management, adaptability, and achievement planning, in order to develop successful strategies to improve individual behavior, team performance and organizational culture. Developing sound training philosophies and integrating successful fundamental skills has proven to be successful for youth, college, Olympic and professional athletes.
Ross served at the Associate Director level of the United States Olympic Committee as a senior sport psychologist. In addition to creating sport psychology programs for national governing bodies of sport and implementing services to teams and individuals, Ross successfully integrated performance services into the culture of an Olympic Training Center through research, written reports, individual and group consultation, leadership training, team building, capital project requests, educational programming, and training venue development. He served on many USA World Cup, World Championship and Olympic teams.
Ross founded and directed the Applied Sport Psychology Program at the University of California, Davis, working in Counseling and Psychological Services and the Intercollegiate Athletics Department serving 26 intercollegiate athletic programs, over 800 student-athletes and 121 coaches and staff. He also supervised the professional development of psychology doctoral candidates specializing in applied sport psychology.
Ross’s productivity in the realm of elite performance enhancement is supported by his background as an elite athlete, NCAA Division 1 coach, and consultant to national and international business organizations. Ross holds a doctorate of philosophy in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with emphasis in performance and sport psychology, and a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.