Teaching kids to play sports is great for everyone involved – just don’t become a pushy parent.
On weekends or bright summer evenings dads can often be found kicking a ball about in the park with their kids, or teaching them to ride bikes. On Saturday afternoon my local pool is full of dads teaching children the basics of breaststroke and crawl.
Dads often take on the role of family PE instructor. At first, we might take kids outside to give mum a break. Later on, we do it because we like it. I’ve taught both my children to swim and ride bikes, and physical activity is something I naturally take the lead on. Many of my dad friends spend their weekends coaching the football teams their children play for, or organising children’s cross country races.
Dads give the gift of sport
When dads teach children sport and exercise, good things happen. We know that children who take part in team sports have better mental health, and are less likely to be depressed when they grow up. They are, of course, more likely to be fit and lean.
The advantages don’t end there. Sporty children learn about collaboration and cooperation, and how to take both defeat and victory gracefully. They learn important social skills. They make a lot of friends.
Dads who take their young children out for kick abouts and bike rides start a love affair with physical activity that can last a lifetime. Children who play sports are more likely to be active adults, with all the benefits for health and longevity that can bring.
Playing team sports brings a range of benefits, but not all children are suited to football or rugby. That’s fine. Individual sports can be equally advantageous, and we know that simply playing outside is extremely healthy for children.
Don’t be a touchline terror
Dads’ involvement in their children’s sports doesn’t tend to end when kids get older. It’s often (though of course not always) dads who end up running teams or encouraging their kids from the sidelines. That too can be beneficial. Studies show that children whose parents positively support their sporting activities enjoy those activities more.
But parental involvement in children’s sport is not always positive. A recent survey by the MCC and Chance to Shine found that children as young as eight were being put off sport by pushy and badly behaved parents. Four in ten said they had been criticised by parents for poor performance, and some had been sworn at by their own mums or dads.
England cricketer and Chance to Shine ambassador Kate Cross said: “We want them to be competitive but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. That applies to children as well as to any pushy parents watching them.”
“We want them to be competitive but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed”
Keep a sense of realism
It’s also true that dads who see the next Lionel Messi in their five-year-old should learn to rein in their enthusiasm. Of the children picked to try out for one of the professional clubs’ academies, only one percent will go on to play professional football.
So don’t fill your child’s head with talk of riches and fame, even if they’re talented. Positive encouragement is key.
If there’s one other downside here it may be that dads who teach their children sport think they’ve done their bit, which clearly isn’t the case. There’s no reason why dads can’t teach skills from cooking to needlecraft to computer coding. And dads whose children show no interest in sports can instil a love of nature, and an appreciation of physical activity more generally, instead.
But really, with a sensible and balanced approach, there are few downsides in teaching children sports, and encouraging them – positively – in their sporting endeavours. Dads who do so help their children in all sorts of ways, and are likely to find that the parent/child bond is strengthened at the same time.