It can be disheartening when your child who was previously enthusiastic about sports suddenly turns lukewarm on them. You’ve already scheduled games for the next few months and bought the expensive equipment — and, perhaps more importantly, you want your child to learn to commit and follow through, at the very least until the end of the season.
As a parent, it’s always important to find the right methods of encouraging kids to do things that are good for them. For some kids, an NFL wall decal is all they need to get stoked for pee wee football. Others might respond better to an inspiring sports movie that helps them understand why people love the game.
However you choose to encourage your kids, it should be gentle and directed toward personal growth. The methods we’ll discuss here are five ways of doing that.
Show your kids athletes at all levels of the game.
One of the best things about sports is how many different ways there are to enjoy them. You can watch professionals play at the highest levels, you can compete in local rec leagues or you can enjoy a pick-up game at the park.
Whenever possible, show your kids people playing and enjoying sports at every level! Professional games are great, of course — there’s nothing like a trip to the ball game with your kids. But seeing other levels, like minor league games and rec leagues, helps kids understand that sports can be a lifelong passion even when, like most people, you don’t go pro.
That can be a big help in easing the pressure that some kids feel when playing sports. It helps get the message across that the vast majority of people aren’t playing to become professional athletes. Rather, they’re playing because it’s a fun way to get some exercise, push yourself and be in community.
- Figure out what your kid likes about sports and nurture it.
People approach sports with many different mindsets, and most people play for more than one reason. Some like pushing themselves in competition; some like the physical rush and adrenaline of exercise. Lots of people just like being outside and/or doing something as part of a team.
The key to motivating your kid is finding which of those reasons are driving them and encouraging that. Ultra-competitive kids might want to take extra lessons or work toward a goal of playing in a more challenging league. Kids who like exercising but don’t like the pressure of competition might do better in kids’ fitness classes or low-pressure intramural teams.
- Help your child choose the right sport.
Ideally, before your child joins a team, you can talk to them about their expectations and how they line up with the nature of the game. For example, baseball might not be a great choice for kids with extremely high energy levels who always need to be moving.
Many kids will want to change sports from year to year, and this isn’t something to discourage. Every child should have the opportunity to try a wide variety of athletic hobbies and pursue the ones that suit them best. Forcing a kid to stick with a sport when they want to play something else doesn’t help them develop healthy habits. It just makes them miserable.
Finally, don’t forget about sports outside the traditional team sports model. Some kids might enjoy sports like swimming, hiking or weightlifting more. These can be especially good for introverted or anxious kids who don’t particularly enjoy competition or big groups of people.
Help your kid find a sports role model.
It’s often easier to get a kid hyped for games and practices if they have a sports figure they admire. When you watch sports together, take note of which players your child seems to like, and encourage their interest in following their progress. If they really start to invest in a player or team, some MLB wall decals with their favorite players or kids’ peel and stick wallpaper with their favorite teams can keep the energy going strong even when it’s not game day.
Of course, it’s also important to consider which players are good role models for your child. It’s not uncommon for even previously squeaky-clean athletes to get caught in bad behavior, so use it as a chance for a heart-to-heart talk if it happens. Avoid putting anyone on a pedestal and communicate openly about how all humans make mistakes, even famous athletes.
Another easy way to give kids a good role model for physical fitness? Be one yourself! When kids see you incorporating fitness into your daily routine, such as joining a rec league or even just going for a daily run, they’ll internalize it as part of a healthy and rewarding lifestyle.
- Communicate a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is an important concept both for sports and for life in general. Basically, it means emphasizing effort and personal growth rather than results like winning or losing. To someone with a growth mindset, a mistake on the court is an opportunity to learn, rather than shameful evidence of being a bad player.
When young athletes have a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset, they often put themselves under pressure that keeps them from enjoying the game. That’s why it’s important that any parent who wants to motivate their child in sports steers them in the direction of adopting a growth mindset.
If you find yourself reluctant to encourage this kind of thinking, ask yourself why. Do you have unrealistic expectations of your child’s performance in sports? Are you more concerned with whether they win than whether they have fun? It’s always worth doing a little soul searching of your own when it comes to the ways you choose to motivate your kids.