One of the most challenging experiences as a parent can be watching your child struggle. This is especially true when it's something you hope they will enjoy. At the BSA, we are passionate about helping our young players enjoy sports while also developing lifelong skills like empathy, perseverance, and teamwork.
We often hear from parents with questions about what to do if their child is having a difficult time adjusting to their BSA sport. We can, of course, try to offer guidance, but each child is unique and sometimes it can be difficult to truly know what is happening with a child.
That's why BSA Managing Director, Jodi Harris, sat down over email with ISB Elementary School counselor, Kathryn Manu to ask some questions related to what we most frequently see parents struggling with. We are so happy to share her answers here, plus offer some links to resources your family might find useful.
We are grateful to Ms. Manu for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with us. We hope you will find these ideas and tips as useful as we do!
1. My child isn't on a team with his friends. How can I help my child adjust to being on a team where he'll be making new friends?
Sports teams are naturally a great conduit to connection. Validate that it might feel awkward at first being on a team without close friends, yet (emphasizing the yet). Remind your child that connections often take time to develop, but that the odds are high it will happen so long as your child maintains an open attitude. If it seems appropriate, invite new teammates over to play or get to know each other better off the pitch too.
2. My child feels shy, afraid or uncertain about joining sports. How can I reassure them while encouraging them to give it a try?
It’s normal to feel apprehensive when starting something new! It’s helpful to talk with your child about how it takes time to feel comfortable both with a new peer group and with a new activity.
Sports are meant to be, and most often are, really fun ways to stay active and healthy. What are some other times in their lives that they had to start something new and ended up really enjoying it (perhaps a previous school experience, a musical activity, etc.)?
Some children appreciate a parental attitude that is open to negotiation - perhaps you agree that the sport commitment is for one full season but after that, if it’s not a good match, your child does not have to continue.
It might also be helpful to remind them that the BSA community is one whose core values include positivity and inclusion - it’s a very safe and supportive environment to try out a new sport and meet new people!
Remember you don’t have to ride your child’s emotional roller coaster - be calm, active listeners while at the same time encouraging a resilient mindset and reminding your children about the commitment that comes with being a member of a team.
3. My child gets really upset when things don't go their way on the pitch. How can I help my child cultivate a growth mindset before and after the training sessions or games?
Developmentally, it is typical for children between the ages of 2-9 years old to find emotional self-regulation highly challenging. This skillset develops more fully during preadolescence as the prefrontal cortex of the brain begins to strengthen and the growth in this area continues through early adulthood. This being said, younger children and older children alike benefit from activities/conversations that help them recognize what they are feeling before it becomes explosive, and most importantly what strategies or tools are available to them to help them feel more in control of their emotions.
Talk to your child about what is happening in their bodies when they start feeling upset or frustrated. Where do they feel it? Teach your child some simple strategies too - mindful breathing is always a great one, as is some positive self-talk like: “this isn’t a big deal”, “BSA is meant to be fun and not super competitive”, and “I can do this”. Role playing with your child before a game or practice can be very effective - recreate situations that are upsetting to your child and go through the variety of options available to respond to the situation. I always tell children the following: You can’t control the actions of other people, but you CAN control your reaction!
4. I want to better understand my child's experience with sports. What types of questions should I be asking my child about their experience with sports?
Sports are such a wonderful opportunity for your child to have independence while building connections with adult mentors (coaches) and peers. Some great questions to ask your child after a practice or game are, while respecting their autonomy, are:
What was something you enjoyed today?
How did your team work together?
How does it feel when your team scores a goal?
What are some hopes you have for yourself and for your team this season?
How can I support/help you have a great experience here?
5. Sometimes I think I'm too involved! What strategies should I keep in mind to handle my own feelings (worry, frustration, anger) when my child struggles with sports?
Ultimately you want your child to gain independence and to have positive connections with other adults and peers. In fact, your current and future relationship with your child will be better if you can recognize when you’re crossing a boundary and take a step back. You are not reliving your own childhood through your children nor is your role to ensure that they never experience anything negative. What is more, struggling can actually be an enriching opportunity for positive growth and development. When your child is having a hard time in any way, it’s best to be supportive and to listen, without offering your opinions and without rushing to try to solve their problems for them. If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior at sports, reach out to the coaches to see if this is typical for the age group.
For most other things, remind yourself that BSA is not competitive (there are other options in the community for more competitive sports) and that your child is there to have fun, learn something new, and be surrounded by good people. Also, not all sports are for every child! Help your child learn what their strengths are and what brings them joy.
At the end of day, involvement in sports helps nurture a healthy and active lifestyle while building connections!