When Other Adults Supervise Your Children…

by Mark Benerofe on March 8, 2010

Mark BenerofeOne of the greatest challenges parents face is managing situations where they will place their children under the care of other adults. This challenge starts with baby nurses, pediatricians, nannies, and childcare; and continues throughout a child’s life with school, sports programs, summer camps, and other activities.

In my experience as a coach and camp director, I see parents struggle to find the proper athletic experiences for their child. This process has become more complicated in recent years with the increased prevalence of travel teams and AAU teams. Much parental anxiety stems from concerns regarding the extent to which different programs emphasize competition and winning. A complicating factor may be that a child may want to play in a program that has a different philosophy from what a parent wants.

To parents struggling with decisions about which athletic programs to choose and how to manage the experiences they’ve chosen, I would offer the following suggestions and observations:

1. Try to understand and accept your child’s nature.

If your child constantly seeks challenges, and is driven to compete ardently, he probably will not be fulfilled by a program that doesn’t give him the opportunity to experience his competitive nature. He is probably better suited to a more intense athletic environment. Some kids are more aggressive than others. One of the great attributes of sports, is that it provides a forum for children (and adults) to healthfully channel their aggression. Similarly, some children are intimidated by competitive sports. This can be frustrating to parents, especially those that love sports themselves. These children may thrive in athletic environments that don’t emphasize performance, but focus on participation and fun. Whether you would prefer your child to be more competitive or less competitive, avoid the temptation to impose your competitive preferences on your child’s athletic experience. Allow him to experience sports in a way that he finds comfortable and enjoyable.

2. Be patient.

It may be a cliché, but it’s one we often lose sight of – children develop at different rates. The most famous example would be Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore. Too often, children are labled “unathletic” at far too young an age. Conversely, children that excel early on may experience difficulty when their peers catch up to or surpass them. Try-outs and cuts can discourage “late-bloomers” from participating in sports, depriving them of potentially great experiences and depriving the sports world from their potentially great contributions. If your child does get “cut,” from a particular team, find an alternative low-pressure way for him to enjoy that sport. Don’t let a difficult early experience turn him off to a sport unnecessarily.

3. Nothing’s perfect, focus on what matters most to your family.

There are many factors that go into picking a sports program for your kids. Among these are price, schedule/convenience, location, quality of instruction, level of competition, and program philosophy. It is unlikely that you will find an organization that meets all your criteria perfectly. So decide what’s most important to you and choose accordingly.

4. Kids can have great learning experiences even with “less-than-great” coaches.

As a child, I was blessed with some great coaches, and stuck with some stinkers. Luckily, I thoroughly enjoyed every meaningful athletic endeavor I undertook, and learned from all of them. As parents, we tend to get overly concerned about lousy coaches. I don’t mean unsafe or cruel coaches (you cannot be too concerned about such people) – but plain old lousy coaches. Such coaches can be manipulative or dismissive, play favorites, and be poor technicians or strategists. Yet kids can still have a great time, improve their abilities, and learn. They can learn how to deal with manipulative, dismissive, poorly trained people who play favorites. Coaches aren’t the only ones. So learning how to thrive in a particular circumstance, despite a lousy coach is an important skill. This brings me to another cliché – you can’t prepare life for your children, so you better prepare your children for life. Your kids aren’t always going to be supervised by the “best and brightest.” But you can help them deal with the “less-than-great” coaches.

5. SPORTS ARE FUN!!

At Camp Winadu, our motto is “Building Character Through Sports.” We believe that sports are among the most powerful teaching tools for reaching young people. The reason is simple – SPORTS ARE FUN. When sports are no longer fun for kids – because adults create too stressful an environment – not only do kids lose the chance to have a great time, but we, as adults, lose some of our best opportunities to teach important values. Unfortunately, we have to remind ourselves, kids play sports to HAVE FUN!

As parents, we grew up in a “simpler” time for youth athletics. It was easy for us to develop our enjoyment of sports before facing the pressures of organized competition. Our kids confront these pressures at an earlier age than we did. They can still have even better experiences than we may have had, but it will take a little extra thought and effort on our part. I hope the ideas in this post will help you help your children have the best possible experience with sports.

About the Contributor: Mark Benerofe, Director of Camp Winadu and President of the CampGroup Family of Camps, is a regular blog contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the areas of outdoor education and children’s development through athletics.

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