Youth Sports Psychology Tips: Does Specialising on One Sport Hinder a Child’s Development? – Part 2
Sport can have many benefits psychologically for children
Do you ever ask yourself the question as a parent – why does my child or children play sport?
It’s so easy to forget to ask yourself such a simple question, your child may be good at an activity and get used to winning and improving through the levels so you forget.
Or you may be taxiing them here, there and everywhere as they go through struggles and difficulties with endless trials in academy’s in their quest to make it.
Or you may now play the sport or have or have not played it in your youth and you would love them to take part so you don’t give it any thought.
Yet it’s important to consider, some children play because their friends do, some play because they like to learn new skills, some are very competitive, some love the challenge and others play because they simply like their coach.
I’d encourage you to allow your child, without your input, 2 minutes to review this list, it will give away some clues.
Now why is that you want your child or children to play sport?
As I mentioned above situations come at us as parents left, right and centre and can throw us. Or the fast pace of life and demands on our time mean that we don’t even give it one minutes thought. So why not take your 2 minutes now to review your motives.
What have you learned from these 2 exercises?
Firstly, I’d encourage you to have a conversation with your child or children about the responses and discuss when you and they may not act in a manner which is congruent with these reasons. Perhaps they say they love the challenge of playing against better players. Yet they actually freeze in these situations. Or they play because their friends do, yet find it difficult to hear criticism from these team-mates.
You may also wish to consider and discuss if the sport(s) they are participating in are giving them these opportunities.
Benefits of Sport for Children
Research tells us about the physical benefits of sport for children in that they are likely to improve co-ordination, agility, balance, general fitness and space perception. In addition to strengthening their respiratory, nervous, circulatory, immune, and digestive systems.
Yet, psychological benefits from sports also exist.
In sport you often lose more than you win. Losing can be a helpful way to develop resilience, being able to bounce back positively from setbacks. To assess situations and problem solve how you can improve next time. Losing can also help children understand themselves better at an emotional level during these challenging times.
2. Stay Present
In some sports, being immersed in the moment on a task is easier than in others where there are more moving and changeable distractions. For example Darts when arguably it is you against the board vs Rugby where you could be faced with a person a lot bigger than you running at you at speed, whilst being shouted and screamed at from all angles, from team-mates and coaches and as heavy rain and a howling wind blows in your face. It’s a lot easier for the dart player yet the rugby player learns how to avoid these many distractions.
3. Self Compassion
Being a motivated and competitive child is a helpful thing right. Yet, when this is taken too far with high, unrealistic expectations and perfectionist tendencies the ability to be kind to yourself can be tough. With guidance from excellent coaching however sport can help you learn not to take yourself too seriously and be self compassionate.
4. Self Worth
Engaging in sport for some children is a welcome boost to their self-esteem. It gives them a lot of confidence seeing the ball go in the net or seeing themselves better a friend in the middle when batting. It goes on to hand them some “life control” and come away with a can do attitude feeling like they can get better and reach their goals and targets.
5. Life skills
Research tells us sport can also play a part in the development of life skills that are required in the workplace. It can teach children commitment, how to anticipate problems and setbacks and how to overcome them. The goal setting process is also a big part of sport for some children, who plot long term goals and work out ways (short-term goals) to achieve them. It can also help children assess their own and their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
6. Working as a team
Not every sport teaches this skill and not every team has a culture that reflects this benefit. However, many children involved in team sports go on to learn the art of teamwork, to work collectively together to achieve team goals. Sometimes they learn from positive experiences and sometimes from not so good experiences, however in the end they begin to understand how “teamwork can make the dream work.”
7. Risk taking
If a sporting environment is set up well, encouraging a psychologically safe atmosphere, it can promote fearless children who feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of reprisal or punishments. Adversely, other environments where blame, sarcasm and criticism are rife it can mean children do hide in the background, can be very self critical and don’t show their natural talents. This however can be an opportunity for the child to learn from such situations.
Sport offers children great opportunities to make friends. Team sports naturally promote a level of team spirit and bonding. Whereas in some individual sports this can be more difficult depending on the ages and gender of fellow competitors. Some teams, clubs and governing bodies do a great job in promoting this social aspect whereas some can struggle.
9. Dealing with uncertainty
One thing all sports guarantee is uncertainty. You never know if today is going to be your day, whether a stroke of bad luck is around the corner or a rival is going to have a PB or one of their best ever games. Some children prefer a larger element of control when they play sport, yet the nature of sport tells us that many external factors will always come in to play. Sport can help us in this respect to find ways to control the controllables.
Task for parents
I’d like you now to consider the 9 psychological benefits that I’ve detailed and work out if your child is getting the most from their sport or the current sporting environment right now. You may also wish to consider the previous years of sporting experiences and figure out if and when these psychological benefits did or did not come into play.
For parents whose child or children specialise on one sport
A special note too for those parents, whose children are specialising in one sport right now it may be worth considering the following questions:
Would an additional sport be too much for my child or children meaning they are switched on too much without enough time to relax and unwind?
Would an additional sport in the mix add to the current benefits that they receive?
Would an additional sport(s) be too much for you as a parent financially and/or emotionally?
I sincerely hope that this post is helpful in improving the sporting experience of your child or children. If you wish to learn more from my insights please check these pages out from our Sports Psychology library and resources.
Or our previous blog may be of interest too, where my colleague Gerald Fitzgerald shares his wisdom.
Online Sports Psychologist and Mental Skills Performance Coach who supports children Sports Psychology Coaching all around the world from Wales to Wellington, New Zealand, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.
Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence, Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast and Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub. With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to achieve their goals, faster.
T: +44 7734 697769