As a coach to your under 8 children, I have a responsibility to ensure that they experience the joy of movement, skills and understanding required to play sport, in a safe and fun environment. Getting it right at this stage will help them have the competence and confidence to participate in a range of sports and physical activities for life. When I turn up for the practice session, I am not really concerned about this particular sport. I just want to make sure that the fundamentals are right. Of course, I do facilitate certain sport specific skills and game play, but in the main, I am trying to nurture the physical literacy the children will need to take part in any sport.
Some research suggests that up to 70% of children drop out of organised sport by the age of 13 (http://changingthegameproject.com/why-kids-quit-sports/) due to a variety of reasons including – Sport is too serious/adult like, Emphasis on winning, Internal Competition/Favourites, Pushy Coaches/Parents, Low Confidence/Competence – Sport Ireland Coaching 2017. On a Sunday morning, we average at about 25 children coming to our sessions. The above statistic would mean that only 6 of these children would only be participating in organised sport when they go into second level education. That’s quite hard to believe really! This is why I,and indeed all the other coaches and you, have such a responsibility!
We need to keep changing the game in terms of ensuring that the interactions that us as parents, and us as coaches, have with the children are positive. For me, competition at this level should be appropriate and only a by-product of their involvement. All children must get to play on equal grounds to each other and opponents must be matched appropriately. I read a quote recently regarding adults making competition too important in sport. ‘in a nutshell, the problem is you can’t make winning very, very important, without also making loosing humiliating.’ (www.darkhorseathletic.ca). I am all in favour of the ‘blitz’ type structures that insist that all the children get to play for equal time. Some of our NGB’s are doing a wonderful job in this sense.
As parents, (and I as a coach), need your help to ensure that your child has a better chance of not dropping out of sport by the time that she / he gets to second level school age.
1. Keep coming on a Sunday morning to our sessions, but also let your child experience other sports too. Don’t let them specialise at this age.
2. Let your child play like a child! Our sessions are meant to be fun and at times, silly! You must remember though that we have a structure and purpose.
3. Please do not come onto the pitch if you see them ‘off task’ and try to correct them. We will be able to look after them. Sometimes if they are off task, it is our fault for poor communication or too high of a task expectation. Children learn at differently.
4. Sometimes the children are just not interested in participating – We all have off days! Again, let us deal with it. We have strategies to try and get them back involved.
5. If you need to talk to them, please let it be positive and appropriate. Don’t coach from behind the fence. You just may be contradicting what we are telling your child!
6. Get stuck in. If you see us shorthanded or under pressure, we can always do with a hand in signing in children, giving out bibs, collecting cones. Please don’t be afraid to help out, in fact you might enjoy it.
Thanks for your time to read this letter. Together we can make sure that our children will have the best opportunity possible to stay involved in sport and physical activity for life.