Children in Sport Part 1
Though sport can be and is great for many children there has always been concern by some coaches and parents about the effects of competitive sport on growing children. For the many children who enjoy their involvement in competitive sport there are many who do not and indeed suffer while doing so. In a short series of six articles I want to consider the development of children in badminton in England though what I write could apply to many competitive sports in many countries. The first article follows below.
Article 1. So You Think Your Child is Going to be a Champion
On the crowded courts numerous children are engaged in the challenge of the contest, the fantasy of their own or their parents'aspirations and enjoying or suffering the experience of play before coming off court in joy or gloom.
At every possible viewpoint are perched Mums and Dads watching the outcome of every action of their children. Each win would compensate for all the sacrifices made on their behalf and the better the win the easier to justify the sacrifice.
"My daughter is going to play for England" reflects Mr and Mrs Smith proudly.
"My son is going to become a professional player; he is the best of the lot. I'm going to make him an All England singles champion." contemplates Mr Brown.
"I'm so confused," Mrs Green thinks, "are we doing the right thing? We have been spending so much time and money on her badminton; her coaching, going to practices, matches and tournaments costs us several thousand pounds each year. We don't drink or smoke, we cannot afford to go out much or on holidays anymore and she is still only 15 years old. Is it all worth it? Will she make it? Shouldn't she be concentrating on her school work, doing some other sport as well and enjoying her social life with her friends?
There is no doubt that without the aspiration and the efforts of parents junior badminton would not thrive as it does today in England. The children could not travel around to play badminton to the extent that they do. Consequently it is quite easy to understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of those parents who do put so much time, money and effort into their childrens'badminton. Though I assume they all believe that they are doing so in their childrens'best interest many still expect some return for their labours. There are three main questions here for badminton parents. First, what sort of return do they expect? Second, are they likely to gain that sort of return? Third, what other returns might they get?
The first question is a soul searching one. The Smiths and Mr Brown above believe that they know exactly why they are putting so much effort into their childrens'badminton and what sort of return they expect. At this point we don't know whether the children have the same ambitions and expectations as their parents. But it is a question that should be asked at some point, one perhaps their parents should be thinking about it. Mrs Green isn't at all clear why she sacrifices so much and what sort of return she expects. Perhaps her confusion is because she doesn't know fully what sorts of returns there are in badminton and whether they are as important as other things in her daughter's life.
The reason why I say that this question is a soul searching one is that the answer really lies in reply to a deeper question, WHY DO I WANT MY CHILD TO PLAY BADMINTON? And to answer that parents must give some thought to their own motives and ambitions for their children. And when they have done that it might be a good idea to find out if their children genuinely play for the same reasons and have the same ambitions.
The second of the three questions is important because it is to do with the steps that are being taken to gain the return the parents want for their efforts. Are they going about trying to achieve their ambitions in the right way? Is it necessary to spend thousands of pounds on coaching, court hire, shuttles, tournament expenses, travel and hotel bills? Is the child receiving the right sort of coaching and advice? Is it necessary to enter so many tournaments, to be a member of every squad and to be coached by so many different coaches, e.g. private coach, squad coaches and team coaches? Is it necessary to do so much fitness training? Is it necessary to cut out other sports and concentrate solely on badminton? What are the best ways to prepare for future success?
In this area many parents are quite ignorant and depend very much for advice on other parents, officials and coaches. Unfortunately, because of the rapid growth of junior sport there is much general ignorance about children's development in sport and so even this advice is not always sensible and in the best interests of children. There is much information available about children's development in sport but too often it appears to be neglected or ignored in the demand for future champions and success.
This leads us to the third of the three questions. For if inappropriate advice is given and the wrong steps taken in trying to realise the parents'ambitions for their children then the parents might discover one day that they get returns they didn't consider and certainly would not want.
It is the moment of truth for many parents whey they are confronted with their children suffering from serious injury through overuse of a part of the body in training or practice. When the child loses for no apparent reason on the court; appears not to try; makes simple and unnecessary errors. When the child feigns illness, makes excuses and is all if and buts; doesn't seem to show any improvement and doesn't practise regularly. When the child becomes sick before a match, comes off in tears, feels a failure and gets depressed. When the child expresses poor behaviour on the court, cheats and swears and is rude to others, never seems to smile or enjoy the contest anymore and prefers practice sessions to competition. When the child enters older age group tournaments not always for the experience but to avoid the risk of losing to a younger or lesser'player in their own age group. When the child is embarrassed or ashamed to speak to the parents. And when the child finally, drops out.
And what of the possible effect on some parents? How many parents become embarrassed at the way their children behave on the court particularly when their child is losing? How many parents can cope with the defeat of their child particularly when expected to win? How many parents make excuses of the ifs'and buts'type? How many parents feel displeased with their children and sulk or take it out on their children when they lose? Far too many in my experience. One might well ask why this is so. Perhaps a possible answer may be found in the quotation from Rudyard Kipling's poem "IF" placed over the entrance to the centre court at Wimbledon. "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same" . And therein lies the clue to the cause of most of the serious problems in children's sport. The mistaken belief that winning is the only thing that matters.
Players first, winners second
Let me say quite categorically that children's development as social persons and badminton players should come before the pursuit of winning. "Players first, winners second.". If winning is pursued as the first priority then such pursuit may cause children's development as persons and players to be retarded and create many of the outcomes listed above.
If your child has the talent, the desire and the will to become a champion you want to make sure that he/she does so whilst developing fully as a person at the same time. That means winning must be kept in perspective.
The future health and happiness of children is surely the main goal with badminton just one means that may help to achieve it. It is possible to pursue and achieve success in sport whilst still developing fully as a well-rounded, balanced person. The main task is to get the balance right between personal development and the pursuit of success as far as the growing child is concerned.
In the next article I will discuss how this might be achieved.
Copyrighted by Jake Downey 2002