How many people spent a part of the holiday break training for their next athletic encounter? If you answered in the affirmative, then you are either a professional athlete who is interested in keeping his contract and endorsements, or one of the many adults who are heavily entrenched in self-selected athletic competitions or who thrive on the positive impact of endorphins after "spinning their wheels," possibly literally and figuratively. Yet, for a child who has yet to determine if he will be a pro athlete, a weekend warrior, or one who is simply content to cheer from the sidelines, the matter is, by far, unresolved.
Some children opt to participate in a sport out of curiosity, the desire to join in with friends, wanting to play for the fun and competition involved or, maybe, they really are hoping to be an athletic star of the future. Whether those who have set serious goals for themselves will ever accomplish that feat is, actually, not the point of my consideration; my thoughts move toward the children's personal growth, social-emotional skills, ability to handle stress and anxiety, and the ability to have a balanced lifestyle.
With sports often being introduced to children during their preschool years, parents and coaches will spend a great amount of time over a varying number of years as a support system, a teacher, a confidante, and/or a friend. Even when excluding those who clearly should not be working with children, the expectations for the remaining adults is huge...and not everyone gets it right.
Advantage Tennis, a club in the New York area that offers lessons to all ages and all levels, has seen it all. Xavier Luna, the director of Advantage All-City Junior Programs, has this to say about the pressures often placed on players,
"Tennis is a game -- and games are supposed to be fun. That's the Advantage Tennis mantra, because if players aren't having fun, they're not going to be motivated to improve. We make sure every one of our students is enjoying the experience. Then we begin the real teaching. Our instructors offer engaging, constructive drills, activities and games that help children at every skill level improve some aspect of their game. Our fun-first, no-pressure approach means children learn to love the game. Then we help them be the best tennis players they can be."
Professional athletes make up a small percentage of the population, so it's not a secret that the chances of your child reaching that level of prominence are slim. Still, that doesn't mean a child should not try to achieve a goal of excellence. It is simply worth remembering that playing the game and developing skills as an athlete should not overshadow the importance of developing as a human being.
- Along with skill development, parents and coaches need to stress respect and common courtesy for others, be they on the same team, opposing team, ref, ump, or lineman.
- Student athletes, right along with their non-athletic peers, need to learn strategies that will promote social-emotional growth, managing anxiety and stress, and how to appropriately resolve conflict.
- If a child never finds himself in the stoplight, he did not fail; doing one's best, along with being a good person, is something of which to be proud.
- If a child does find himself in the spotlight, he is still no more important than others around him.
Encourage your children to participate in athletics. Whether tennis, or any other sport, the benefits of physical activity, establishing positive social relationships, and learning how to manage the highs and lows that accompany any sporting experience will be time well-spent. Just remember to remain positive, supportive and realistic along the way.
Now, let me ask again... Tennis, anyone?