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Parental pressure sees kids quit sport

Parental pressure sees kids quit sport

Increasing pressure to perform on the sports field from an early age is one reason some young people are dropping out of sport, says Sport and Recreation New Zealand's Lawrie Stewart.

Mr Stewart, active youth senior advisor, says high expectations and an emphasis on sports results is taking away the fun element for many children, some as young as five years old.

"Yes competition is healthy but at that young age the result isn't as important as the fun of play. Five-year-olds should be experiencing play and games."

While some thrive on winning, Mr Stewart says some young people aren't and are likely to drop out by the time they finish their schooling years.

Mr Stewart is talking about issues, trends and barriers to physical activity in schools at the New Zealand School Trustees Association conference being held at the Christchurch Convention Centre from July 18-20.

SPARC's nationwide programme, Active Schools, supports primary age children to be more active, stay active and, most of all, really enjoy it.

However, Mr Stewart says some parents have lost sight of the whole fun aspect and instead place very high expectations on their children.

"The adult structure and expectations of sport are being driven into a younger and younger age group - even five-year-olds," says Mr Stewart.

"Sometimes it's the parents who want to be able to say whether their kids won or lost, parents that want to talk about the success or otherwise of their kids, parents who blame the coaches. they want the best for their kids, but sometimes they let their own views of what sport should be get in the way of what kids' idea of sport is."

Mr Stewart says it's time adults changed their attitudes toward sport and started focusing on what children really want - fun.

He says children need a breadth of fundamental skills and play a wide range of games rather than early sport specialisation.

"All kids should learn to hit and throw and catch and run and leap and hop and balance and swim. But often junior sport coaches want kids to learn sport specific techniques rather than a range of fundamental skills," he says.

"For example, in cricket, it's not about children learning a forward defensive stroke and square cut, it's about children learning how to strike a ball with an implement, like a bat, racquet, club or stick, striking it in different ways, striking at balls of different speeds and different balls in general - tennis balls, hard balls, soft balls, big balls and small balls."

Mr Stewart says good teachers and coaches recognise that all children are different and that the sport experience will vary depending on the child.

For some young people Mr Stewart says the actual result is important and for them it is fun to win, but for most the result of the game isn't as important as the social aspect of sport.

"Some kids will respond to what parents want and will push themselves hard, spending a lot of time wanting to be better. Some kids go along because they have to and don't enjoy the experience or they might feel ridiculed from the sideline."

Mr Stewart says parents have always lined the sports fields but he believes the talk on the sideline is getting worse, not better.

"If you go along to Saturday sport, you'll hear the noise on the sideline. Some parents' comments will be really positive, but others try and run the game from the sideline, or criticise referees or, even worse, verbally abuse their child. It's not nice to listen to.

"Though it is difficult to prove, it seems intuitive that this negativity does have an impact on children. You would assume children who are having positive experiences, and where coaches give specific feedback and praise, are more likely to continue playing whereas a child that isn't experiencing the fun element would drop out as soon as they can."

Other topics to be covered at the NZSTA conference include student discipline issues confronting schools in 2008, the challenges and opportunities faced by boards of trustees in developing cyber citizens and issues that arise from complaints to the Ombudsmen's Office by parents or students about board of trustees' disciplinary decisions.


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