Sport. Being a parent and supporter of your child: instructions for use

Many studies prove that sport has a more than beneficial effect on the development of children and young people. For the body, physical activity helps growth, the prevention of diseases such as obesity or cardiovascular risks, as well as motor development and that of the bone system.

The fun factor

Psychologically, club sports are also a way for the youngest to socialize and develop self-confidence, while helping to manage stress and anxiety disorders. According to a 2017 WHO report, every child should exercise at least 60 minutes a day. A recommendation followed by the government, which aims to reach this quota by 2024.

Although it sounds good on paper, for many parents it is not an easy task to get your child interested in sports. Indeed, it is difficult to explain to a 5-year-old child (the age recommended by specialists to start exercising) how much sport, and thus compliance with the rules and exercise, is beneficial for his development.

It is mainly the fun factor that drives children to stick to a discipline and forcing it often leads to failure, even an aversion to sports. But beware, when the little one finally finds basketball at his feet, the parents’ role is far from over.

A fair balance between investment and freedom

“In the extremes, I noticed there were two kinds of parents,” said Hugo, coach of the under-12 team at a handball club in Val-d’Oise. “There are those who are simple consumers, who just drop their kids off and never come to watch matches or practice, and others who are extremely invested, to the point of putting pressure on their child, and even the referees (who are the same age). as the players on the field – editor’s note) during the matches. »

Although these behaviors seem harmless in one case and offensive in the other, they in fact have a significant impact on the sports practice of the youngest. “Due to the presence of the parents, it’s often the case that some of my players don’t want to go back to the field after missing a shot or an action,” notes Hugo, who also evokes a pressure-disturbed handling of emotions. family.

“It’s a small part, but for some the level is different whether it’s the father or the mother who comes to watch the games. In the second case, they often play more freely, with less fear of failure,” he adds.

A thin yellow line

Helping your child thrive in a sport requires a fair balance between investment and freedom, which is hard to find at first glance: the more competitive the sport gets, the thinner the yellow line.

For example, at the end of a meeting, there is no point in dramatizing the negative performance of one’s own progeny, that of the team, or attacking the referee. At this stage, the parent is just there to listen to the child’s disappointment and pick up on the positive.

Sports is primarily about building your own universe, an idea that also applies to children.

It is also important to attend certain sports gatherings to show him the interest we have in his activity. “I encourage parents who don’t do it to come and watch the end of the training every now and then,” says Hugo.

The right balance is between the two. Sports, collectively or individually, is primarily about building one’s own universe, an idea that applies just as much to children. To promote this piece of emancipation, it is best as a parent to ensure that the environment in which the child is located is healthy. All that’s left is to pose as a reassuring and benevolent pillar, giving your child the attention your child deserves, while letting him sail free from failure to victory.

“It is essential to let him practice his activity”

The point of view Philippe Godin, professor of sports psychology, UC Louvain

What does sport bring to a child?

To answer this question, we must first distinguish between sports that are practiced from a training perspective and sports that lead to competition. Physical activity in the broad sense has a positive influence on the biological level, on a physiological, joint, bone, muscle level, on the brain or even on oxygenation… In the beginning, sport was used for this. Now, when you get into competitive sports, some things change. Whoever says competition is really saying measure and compare, and this is often where parents will play a vital role, as the child wants to compare himself with his peers. It is necessary to put a certain number of rules and criteria in order to avoid excesses.

What are these criteria?

The first is to let the child own his activity so that it is not stolen from him. I insist on this term because it happens that the parent or parents try to appropriate this sporting activity as if it were theirs through an identification process: the adult will want his child to do what he would have done if he had this opportunity. had… These are phrases I hear during my clinical consultations. It is often at this level that things get out of hand, because the child is no longer in what is actually his own project, his own world. This brings us to the other benefits and effects of physical and sporting activity: it promotes social and emotional development and learning to deal with emotions. To do this, the child must remain in control of his world and parental interference in this area will thwart this development. What is perverse about this system is that unfortunately it often starts with a good intention: the adult wants to help the child. This is what is difficult, there is a happy medium to be found and it is not easy to respect. On the other hand, there are also parents who are not interested in it, and that is just as damaging.

What impact can parental behavior have on the child?

There are studies that have been conducted on this topic that clearly show that the median attitude is the most favorable. Whether it is parents who exert too much pressure or parents who are disinvested, in both cases the child does not get the best out of the sport. This will lead to behaviour, attitude and/or mood abnormalities. It can also lead to disinterest, a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem… The advice we can give parents is to support – there is also a big semantic difference between “push” and “support” – the child, regardless their evolution in the sports system, with the victories and with the failures when they are in the competitive world.