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About the Author
Dr. Bob Rotella is the former director of sports psychology at the University of Virginia and is a writer for and consultant to Golf Digest. Dr. Linda K. Bunker is a professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia. They both live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
Parenting Your Superstar
How to Help Your Child Balance Achievement and Happiness
By Robert J. Rotella, Linda K. Bunker
Triumph BooksCopyright © 1998 Triumph Books and Robert J. Rotella and Linda K. Bunker
All rights reserved.
Your Role as Parents of an Athlete
It has finally happened — your own youngster is a potentially fine athlete. You are glad your child is seriously interested in sport, but you also want your child to be happy. Although you hope the sport experience will lead your child to be happy, respected, confident and well-liked, you realize that even for young athletes sport can be highly competitive and at times frustrating and discouraging. In this chapter we discuss some typical challenges to parents and techniques and other actions that can make successful parenting in this situation more likely.
Unlike some parents, you are not overly ego-involved. You want to do what is best for your child, and you are well aware that sport has been a great experience for some children, but a problem for others. However, you would like your child to enjoy the benefits of sport, and you may even believe that a few disappointments would be good for your child's development. In the long run you know that your child will learn from these setbacks, and you would like him or her to enjoy meeting challenges and overcoming obstacles. Such an attitude will be helpful throughout life. That much you know for sure!
Interesting Your Child in Sport
For years, parents and scholars have debated whether athletes are "born" or "made." Today we know that successful athletes are both born and made! Many children inherit great natural ability and mature physically at an early age but never become successful. Other children inherit average physical talent but develop their mental and physical skills to excel in sport.
Parents undoubtedly play a crucial role in guiding their child's interest. Dan Marino, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, said in an interview for Inside Sports (Whicker, 1982):
The biggest thing in my early development is that my dad had a job where he could be home in the afternoon, waiting for me to get out of school. Then we would throw to each other the rest of the day. My dad keeps me in perspective. Plus he's the best coach I ever had. (p. 56)
With the increased pressure and rewards available to athletes, parents must understand how they can contribute to raising a child who is not only successful but happy. As a parent, if you can accomplish this task you can consider yourself successful and will probably become happier and more satisfied yourself. In the following sections, suggestions are presented on how you can foster a love of sport in your child.
Parents seem to find themselves constantly open to criticism: "Those parents sure messed up that kid"; "They tried to live through their child"; "That child sure is spoiled. His parents loved him so much they were afraid to discipline him." We hear far less talk about successful parents. When was the last time you heard someone say, "They're great parents. They did a lot of things right for their child"? Or, "Gosh, those parents are so patient. Their child was failing at everything for years, and they were always so encouraging." Or, "Wow! I don't know how he does it. That father stands on his feet and works hard all day, yet he always has energy to play with his children after work." Or, "That mother is amazing. Her husband left her when their child was very young, and yet the daughter has become an excellent athlete. She helped a lot." Perhaps you haven't heard too much praise of this sort. But parents such as these have done admirable jobs of raising their children.
In this book we explore the behaviors and strategies of positive parenting. Raising a child who can participate happily and successfully in sport will indeed be a challenge. Attaining success in sport is difficult, and some failure is inevitable for every sport participant. Moments of great joy as well as moments of frustration and disappointment are certain. Combining success with happiness is twice as hard.
How well you guide your child through these experiences will be crucial. Success will require you to develop a close, trusting relationship with your child. This is the first step, one that all effective parents, coaches, and teachers must take. You must be able to build a caring and warm relationship with your child that is constant and consistent. From this base of trust, you and your child will be free to talk openly. In this way you will better understand your child and be able to provide the encouragement and support he or she needs.
Providing a Sport Role Model
Probably the most important thing that you can do to interest your child in sport is to participate actively in sports yourself. Children who see their parents engaging in sport use them as role models. This is especially true when parents emphasize the fun, enjoyment, and excitement of sport. Parents who participate in sport themselves will "pull their child along" by setting good examples rather than "pushing" by force or coercion.
Enjoying sport is much more important to children than their parents' level of skill or ability to perform. Children under 6 or 7 years old will realize your skill level, or lack of it, only if you feel self-conscious and continually comment on how uncoordinated you are. Just play and have fun. Show your children that you accept yourself as you are and that you will accept them no matter what level of skill they achieve.
The importance of participation and adult involvement cannot be overemphasized. For young children, you can serve as an example of someone who enjoys participating and testing skill through competition and also as a role model for skills. As your child matures and becomes more skilled, your ability to perform will be known — your enjoyment is the important aspect. Do not try to overstate your skill, but be sure to discuss and display how much you believe in the value of competition and participation.
Children will be attracted to activities that appear to capture the interest and enthusiasm of their parents. Often they will imitate their parents, and they may soon show an interest in playing their parents' game. You should enthusiastically encourage children to play when you see that they want to participate. At this point, you can encourage motivation by placing your child's interest and enjoyment ahead of your own. Be sure that your child's early experiences with sport are filled with fun and happiness. A display of affection and pleasure directed both toward sport and toward your child is definitely beneficial at this time. Be sure to emphasize that you love your child regardless of how successfully he or she plays.
Expressing Genuine Interest in Your Child
Nothing makes children feel more important than to have someone show a genuine interest in them. When you talk with your young athlete, show a genuine interest. Ask about his or her favorite sport: "Did you have fun?" "Did you have a good practice?" Simply ask a general question that lets your child know you are interested and ready to listen. Listen attentively when your youngster starts talking. Offer encouragement and support when pertinent. When asked, provide advice.
You can show your genuine interest through the careful use of compliments. A newspaper columnist once suggested that every family should have a "compliment club" in which each person would be expected to compliment at least one other family member each day. Anyone who did not provide at least one positive statement about someone else was expected to place 25¢ in the "compliment kitty" that evening. A great idea for most families!
The importance of sincere compliments within a family cannot be overstated. Children feel good about themselves when their attention is focused on things they do well. A key to confidence is the ability to accept compliments and say "thank you" to the sender. This is a good lesson to learn early in life.
The art of complimenting a youngster becomes particularly valuable when you can point out progress made on some insecurity or weakness. For example, if a young soccer player has had a particularly hard time heading the ball, try to find something good to say about today's attempts. The child may then be able to relax and enjoy playing, which is likely to lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you think you can, you will!
Many other tricks can be used in the "compliment game." For example, if you know your child is disappointed in a performance, you might say, "Your form looked great" or "You really hustled and gave it your best effort. I'm really proud of what a tough competitor you are!" Being complimentary and helping to provide realistic feedback or goals (Chapter 4) are both very important.
The encouragement that parents provide and the pleasure that they openly show are key elements in how children feel about themselves and their sport. Focus on being positive; everyone enjoys being around happy and positive individuals. If parents can help their children learn to enjoy sport and see the good things in different situations, the youngsters will learn to see the good things in themselves and their competitors. Don't criticize or belittle your child's competitors; instead, point out their positive qualities as well as your child's positive qualities.
Deciding to Commit to Sport Early
Your child can benefit from an early entrance into sport. Because many children make an early commitment to sport, waiting even until age 12 or 13 may hurt a youngster's chance of playing on a high school team. But some kids are simply not ready to make a commitment to a sport before their teenage years. Undue pressure on some youngsters produces either increased resistance or problems much greater than a lack of interest in sport. Encourage your child, provide positive examples, and, most importantly, be honest about your feelings and your willingness to support your child's choices and commitments.
Two parents recently described their struggle to get their disinterested child involved in sport without being pushy. They decided to give the child a football for Christmas "from Santa." Their plan backfired. Their son opened the gift, looked up, and said, "Look, a football. I guess even Santa makes mistakes!"
Another recent case provides a good example of parents who were not willing to put forth the necessary effort for a child who showed an early interest in sport. A young mother told us that she wanted her daughter to become a figure skater and asked, "How do I get my child to like skating? I took her once and she was a little frustrated at her lack of success, but by the end of the day she was enjoying it." We encouraged the mother to take the child skating for several consecutive days so she could learn and improve. "Let the child enjoy seeing herself progress," we suggested. "Make sure the child enjoys herself. Get out and skate with her. Fall down with her and laugh and get back up. Praise her for trying and persisting. When she seems discouraged, explain to her that even Tara Lipinski, the Olympic star, fell down often when she was starting to learn to skate." The mother's response to these suggestions was confused and negative: "But I don't want to take my child skating very often. It could become a real burden. Soon she'll want to go all the time. I'd rather not get into that. I have things that I like to do. On weekends I'd rather rest."
Parents must make decisions about what is important and set priorities. How important should sport be to your child's life? Which comes first: your interests or your child's? How will these needs be balanced?
A similar situation occurs with parents who are active in a lifetime sport such as golf or tennis. They often do not have the patience to spend time and energy playing with a child who lacks skill, preferring to play with friends who are equally skilled. They feel that they deserve this free time for their own pleasure. Every time their child expresses interest in playing, the child is rejected; then later they wonder why the child doesn't enjoy their sport.
You must realize that the more time you devote to playing your sport with your child early in the child's sport career, the easier it will be later. You may have to spend time and energy playing with your child during the developmental years, but doing so will increase your joy in playing together later, when his or her skill level has advanced. Remember, an early decision can be very important, but only if the child is ready and willing and only if parents happily accept the required demands.
Making Value Decisions
You may be uncertain about how to provide the right experiences for your child. This is your child, and you want to do what is best. But making decisions is difficult. Should you aspire to raise your child to be a champion? Or should you hope that your child will be a well-rounded student athlete who will participate in sport throughout life? Perhaps these goals are not mutually exclusive.
Committing to Your Values
Everyone you know seems to have an opinion about children and sport. Some of your closest friends think trying to raise a champion would be dangerous for your child. After all, the child who doesn't make it could end up frustrated forever. Others argue that "going for it" and striving to be the best are what every child should be taught. They feel that sport provides the ideal conditions to prepare children for the realities of adult life. Others believe that sport is simply for fun, nothing more and nothing less.
As you consider these viewpoints, you can become confused about what is best for your child. But regardless of your choice, your child will be influenced by it. All parents have values that they impart to their children either knowingly or unknowingly starting at birth. Parents typically teach their children to value what they themselves value. Some parents value academic work; some place emphasis in athletics; some stress both. Others feel that making money is the highest priority. Many parents teach their children the importance of having friends. Still others combine these values and emphasize a blend of attitudes.
Your child will establish an identity based largely on what you value. Your child will even learn to defend your family's values by observing you because not everyone will agree with your values. Have you and your friends ever criticized some local family because their lives seem to revolve entirely around their young athlete? You argued that such single-minded dedication was crazy, and that the child would certainly end up unhappy. But the athlete's family viewed the situation quite differently. They talked with each other about the dedication and maturity their child developed, about how much closer sport made their family, or about how other kids were out wasting their time.
Parents who are certain about their values learn to defend their point of view. Children who communicate openly with their parents may quickly become committed to these values. Don't expect others to agree with your approach. Weigh the options, make a decision, and believe in it.
Some people might view such an approach as narrow-minded. It may be! But it provides a solid base from which to build. These parents are confident they are teaching the preferred values. Others, typically those who are less certain about their own values, feel children should be left to develop their own values as they grow. Often they are so concerned about not pushing their children that they fail to provide any direction at all. The result is children who are unable to deal with peer pressure. They never make their own decisions.
You must decide what you value as a parent. A child who speaks against your values may not be merely looking for direction but may have heard a peer or a teacher speak out against the values you have espoused. How do you respond? Do you speak with confidence? Do you explain and justify your values? Do you tell the child how and why others might feel differently?
If you don't respond, you should not be surprised if your child does not adopt your values. If you strongly believe that a particular sport is best for your child, then you must commit yourself to encouraging your child and providing opportunities to play at an early age. If you don't, expect your child to make the decision without you, but don't be upset or surprised if you disagree with your child's choice. Similarly, don't be surprised when the child rebels during the teenage years if you push too hard.
Be sure that your child understands the reasons behind family values. Encourage questioning of values and allow your child the freedom to inquire about differing viewpoints. Help your child to learn to live according to chosen values while respecting the values of others.
Excerpted from Parenting Your Superstar by Robert J. Rotella, Linda K. Bunker. Copyright © 1998 Triumph Books and Robert J. Rotella and Linda K. Bunker. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Section I. Raising Your Child to Be an Athlete,
1. Your Role as Parents of an Athlete,
2. Life as Parents of an Athlete,
3. Choosing the Best Sport Experience,
4. Getting Started and Setting Goals,
5. Guiding Your Child to Competitive Success,
Section II. Guiding Your Child's Early Sport Experience,
6. Parents Working With Coaches,
7. Parents and Coaches: In Many Ways the Same,
8. Coaching Your Child,
9. Systematic Practice Techniques,
10. Understanding and Analyzing Skills,
11. Preventing Injuries,
12. The Importance of Nutrition,
Section III. Sport as a Total Experience,
13. Organized Youth Sport: Can It Be for All?,
14. The Benefits of Sport Participation,
15. Final Questions and Thoughts,
About the Authors,