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Make School Sports A Positive Experience

Consider the many high school games and sports events occurring at school this year. Do you think they truly meet the definition of the word “game?”

By looking at a definition, we are reminded of what organized sports can be at their best. The word “game” is defined as “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.” Are your teen’s sports events diversion or amusement? What ways does your teen benefit from participating in sports?

Sports can encourage positive character traits and life values. Sports participation can teach the importance of teamwork, co-operation and hard work. Youth can learn important fundamentals such as ethics, following rules, respecting authority figures, winning and losing with grace, coping with success and failure, and goal setting.

Look at why youth participate in sports. Among the reasons common to both boys and girls are to: improve skills, stay in shape and get exercise, learn new skills, and do something at which they may already excel. Some youth enjoy competition but there must be a healthy balance between competition, cooperation and having fun. The sport itself should not be completely focused on an “I win, you lose” philosophy. Learning new things, helping each other improve and having fun while doing so all contribute to a healthy sports environment.

To further healthy experiences around organized sports, parents need to examine their own attitudes. Sometimes parents want to live vicariously through their teen’s efforts. Red flags for parental behaviour might include: sharing credit for a victory or personal best, coaching from the sidelines, making mental notes to talk about with their teen after the event, or becoming disrespectful of officials. If parents find themselves behaving these ways, it’s time to take a step back.

What can parents do if their teen is involved in high school sports?

First, try to be realistic about your teen’s abilities. Few teens go on to university sports, fewer yet make it all the way to their senior year and very few young adults eventually become professionals.

Whenever possible, encourage the positive outcomes from sports mentioned earlier. You can help do that – and keep sports fun – by supporting a balance of competitive sports and involvement in other activities, as well as family time in the life of your teen. You can also serve as a good role model by applauding and cheering for all team members, being respectful of opponents and officials, talking with the families of other team members and focusing on the positive.

– Colleen Gengler is a family relations educator with University of Minnesota Extension

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