Ministry of Education, Guyana

How to Help Kids Succeed in Competitive Sports

Whether you're the cheering fanatic spilling your coffee on the sidelines as your little guy runs for a touchdown in an oversize jersey; or the paralyzed, proud type holding your breath as your daughter strikes out three batters in a row at the plate; if you're like most parents, you are your child's No. 1 fan.

You snap pictures, encourage and motivate with your jewels of wisdom: "You can do it," "Keep your head up" and "Get back in the game." No matter the sport or level of play, parents can do some things to help their children succeed in competitive sports.


  1. Teach game knowledge and sport-specific skills that are appropriate for your child's age. Children under the age of 8 have a very hard time learning complex rules, but are quite capable of grasping the basics, according to an article on children and competition on the website of the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, prepared by human development specialist Cynthia E. Johnson. For example, 5-year-olds can successfully learn how to dribble a soccer ball, how to stop a ball by placing their foot on top of it and how to score a point by kicking a ball into a goal. More complex soccer rules involving fouls, throw-ins and hand-balls won't mean much to kids until at least the age of 9.
  2. Encourage physical preparation. Successful competitive athletes are physically capable and health-conscious. While you shouldn't expect your son to have the physique of Popeye, it's OK to shoot for something between his body and that of Fred Flintstone. suggests showing your young athlete how to prepare for game day by leading a more active lifestyle, getting a good night's sleep and eating nutritious meals. Teach proper hydration, too, and replace cookies and candy with sweet fruits and crunchy vegetables.
  3. Help your child keep things in perspective and prepare mentally. Talk to her before a game about what adjunct professor Dr. Jim Taylor, in an article on the "Psychology Today" website, indicates are the keys to an athlete's success: self-confidence and concentration. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also suggests helping children set realistic expectations to ensure positive competitiveness. Be sure your child understands the joy that comes with a win but also recognizes the sometimes even more valuable lessons that can come from losing.
  4. Step back to help your child love a sport on his own. Although experts discuss the importance of parental involvement in children's sports, too much involvement can burn a child out and lead to other negative implications.
  5. Promote teamwork and positive competition through fun games from an early age onward. Most children love playful cooperative games, such as a three-legged race. NCSU's Johnson also encourages simple games of chance, like Old Maid and Go Fish. Parents should follow a game's rules but remember to keep things positive and lighthearted.
  6. Remind your child to practice good sportsmanship, learn and let go. Whether she wins or loses, teach her the value of reflecting on a competition but not over-dwelling on mistakes. Talk, too, about the importance of having humility to remain grounded and levelheaded.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make practice fun. Shooting hoops with your son after school could be a great bonding opportunity for you both.
  • What's a big deal to an adult is sometimes an even bigger deal to a child. Remember to keep your composure and always sideline-coach respectfully.


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