It turns out your instructions from the sideline will do more damage than good. Photo / Getty Images
Welcome to the Herald’s parenting podcast: One Day You’ll Thank Me. Join parents and hosts Jenni Mortimer and Rebecca Haszard as they navigate the challenges and triumphs of parenting today with help from experts and well-known mums and dads from across Aotearoa.
Many Kiwi parents hold a secret dream that their child might one day pull on an All Black jersey, swing a Black Sticks hockey stick or take to the waters with Team New Zealand.
But as our children grow and develop, how do we help them navigate their sporting interests without being either too forceful – we’ve all gotten a little carried away on the sidelines – or discouraging of their dreams?
One Day You’ll Thank Me hosts spoke to the founder of the Athletic Development Project (ADP), Craig Harrison. The father of three and husband to former Silver Fern Anna Harrison created ADP to help parents and young people “put their best foot forward” in their chosen sporting field.
“I talk a lot about the outcome and the journey we’re on to potentially get there,” says Harrison of kids getting the best out of a sporting experience.
“Sport becomes very emotional very quickly. Often when I talk to parents, what they do on the sideline is quite different to what they do when they’re sitting on a couch having a rational conversation. The important piece there is if they want performance and they want learning and they want good experiences, the instruction they’re giving from the sideline gets in the way of their kids growing and learning and being the best that they can be. When we instruct – and we’ve done research on this – it robs the young person of making a decision and that’s the crucial element of learning and growing and getting better.”
He says though it’s a parent’s job to seek out opportunities for our kids to do well, “it’s a fine line between finding those opportunities then making sure they double down and get the outcome that adults deem to be so important”.
Harrison says though adults “live our lives in a world of outcomes. Kids don’t think like that.”
He uses the analogy of how parents view a playground compared to little ones.
“We see the playground as a place where the objective is to get to the top of the monkey bars, that’s why you go, that’s why we play, to get to the top or get to the other side. Kids don’t think like that. It’s about the moments. We have to be really aware of that and put our focus on the journey. The playground is an environment for them to explore. We can ruin their experience by expecting them to complete whatever it is that we see in front of us.”
But that’s not to say getting kids into a sports team or physical activity shouldn’t be encouraged, he notes. We just need to consider what that should look like depending on our child’s age, attributes and what’s important to them.
“From as early as we can imagine, young people are moving,” says Harrison. “You watch them move from day one. We’re designed to move. We’re most happy and we’re most healthy when we’re moving. Sport is just one context that allows young people to move.
“As parents, it’s about providing opportunities for our kids to move in different ways and obviously connect with people and have those experiences right throughout their development. There’s not a right age to start kids in sport, it’s really about what that particular experience looks like.”
For younger children, Harrison advises this “needs to be more explorative, it needs to be more playful. It needs to be less structured and controlled because we don’t want to put young people in boxes any sooner than we have to, because we know that ends in big problems,” he says.
As kids do become involved in a team or sporting endeavour, an important element to consider is the relationship with and impact of their coach.
“More and more, the work that I’m doing and in my work with parents is to align the values of the family with the values of the sporting environment,” says Harrison. “That’s something that doesn’t typically get done a lot. That requires the family to understand what is important to them. If relationships through the coach and their relationship with your son or daughter is important then that is a fair question to ask the coach when you go and explore a new opportunity. What is it that you value as a coach and what am I going to see when I stand on the sideline and watch my kid play?”
“That’s really important because research shows that, very quickly, within a culture of sport, you can start adopting some of those beliefs if you’re not aware of what’s going on.”
To learn more from Craig Harrison about how to help your children get the best out of their sporting pursuits and understand potential opportunities, listen to today’s episode of One Day You’ll Thank Me below.