Couch Conversations: Dig in to the Olympics with your child
By Greg Bach
The amazing athletes, fantastic performances and gold medals decided by hundredths of a second – the Winter Olympics have been a daily feast of delicious drama.
They can also be a great opportunity for parents to ignite conversations with their kids about sports, competing, and so much more.
“The first thing is find a sport that your child has some interest in, you have to get their attention first,” says Dr. Christina Frederick, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with deep expertise in sports psychology. “It might not be figure skating, but it might be snowboarding. As you’re watching with your son or daughter you can certainly talk to them about why this is interesting to them and what kind of person would do this sport, and also focusing on that athlete’s story, how they got interested in the sport and how they continued to practice to reach their goals.”
It doesn’t take being a Vegas oddsmaker to realize that few children will ever make it to the Olympics, but by watching the world’s best give it their best kids can take away some powerful messages about being active and healthy, never giving up, and taking pride in giving their best effort at all times, among others.
Check out what else Frederick, who coordinates Embry-Riddle’s Master’s Program in Human Factors and Systems, had to say about how the Olympics can produce some meaningful parent-child discussion:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Most of the athletes competing in the Olympics won’t go home with a medal, but it’s inspiring to see their effort and their love for competing. How can parents help their young athletes embrace the joys of competing without getting too caught up in results?
FREDERICK: We’re really bad about teaching kids how to deal with not winning and teaching our kids that not winning isn’t failure. These Olympic athletes love what they are doing. I would focus on that these athletes are at the top of their game, they love the sport and they have been doing it for years, and it’s an honor to even make the Olympics. So, they don’t have to win to have actually already won. Being there and being with other people who also share your passion and share what you love to do is reinforcing in and of itself. And the competition gives you an extra element – it’s fun to compete against people that challenge you. So, whether you win or lose you know that you have competed to the best of your ability and that is rewarding. So, make sure kids understand that it’s not just about getting a medal, it’s about the experience and it’s about being with people that is really important.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Some kids may be so inspired by what they see on television that they want to become an Olympic athlete, so how do parents encourage their child to work toward dreams while balancing the reality that so few ever reach that elite level?
FREDERICK: Make sure that it’s not about the parent, that it’s about the child’s interest, the child’s development and the child developing competency. I think what happens sometimes is that parents get really excited when they see a child that has some ability; the naturally gifted child athlete is special. So, when parents get excited they start to push harder than perhaps the child is ready to accept. Children have lots of interests and they don’t necessarily want to be spending a lot of hours in a sport. Based on the age level of the child you have to really look at how you develop the child’s interests without forcing that, and giving them the experiences but being careful about over-practice and being careful about over-participation. Parents also have to make sure that their coach has the right attitude and that the coach is really looking at this as a competency development and process-oriented activity; and it’s not always about winning, the outcome or the pressure to perform. So, I think you have to really be careful with kids because many start but most of them drop out because they don’t find it fun anymore or they’re not getting any kind of skill development out of it and they’re not seeing themselves progress. So, you really have to be careful and manage the amount of participation based on the child’s age and their competency.
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