Advice to parents of young athletes

One of the peculiar aspects of youth sport is that almost every family that has a young athlete involved in sport training experiences things for the very first time. Many times here is no 'experience' for parents to fall back on during their child's participation. Everything is more or less new and help interpreting events or just the day-to-day activities involved in sport training can be confusing and discomforting.

Many Malaysian families allow their children to participate in sports as long as it does not interfere with academics and as long as the child shows 'promise' in the activity.

Sport and academics are complementary activities. Success in either requires discipline. Youngsters who participate in sport learn valuable lessons about discipline and are then able to carry those lessons into their academic pursuits.

Athletes are usually among the best students in American colleges. One reason is that there are more demands on an athlete's time than that of a typical college student. The time they spend in athletic training makes their study time even more valuable.

Give your child time to learn the sport

Many parents believe that children are either born with sport talent or they're not, thus forays into sport participation for many youngsters are short lived when they don't show immediate success.

There are two problems with this idea. First, talent takes time to develop; no one is born with it, at least not in sports. Second, the degree of talent a child exhibits in sport is directly related to the length of time they are involved in the sport.

Support your child's sport participation, don't force it

Children who are forced to participate in sport usually don't like it. They will quit their participation at the first opportunity. A better strategy would be to encourage your child to find an activity they enjoy. Once they find a sport they enjoy try to be as supportive as possible without forcing participation.

Keep your eyes on what is really important

Being the best or winning every race or match is impractical and focusing on this will only make your child's sport experience miserable. If your child is active, enjoys the activity, and wants to be at practices and competitions then that is good. For some children it's the best that can be expected. For others it may be the start of an elite sport career. For most it's somewhere in between.

Despite what you may hear from overzealous coaches the point of youth sport is not to develop champions but to provide all young participants with a healthy and enjoyable experience. To keep them active and engaged as long as possible. Over time some of these youngsters will emerge as high performance athletes but all of them should have a fun, supportive, and satisfying experience.

Support your team or club

If you look at the countries that are successful in sport their youth programs are large and involve youngsters of all abilities. To run programs like this takes a lot of volunteer help. It's a cliche to say that you don't have to know a lot about sport to coach young children but it's also true.

Another reason to support your team is that your child's sport experience and to a large extent their success and progress in the sport depends on the other athletes on the team and the coaches. Training with other athletes who are enthusiastic, happy, and motivated will go a long way in helping your child reach his or her potential.

Encourage young girls to get involved

Let's face it. Participation by Malaysian women in sport is not really encouraged yet. Why should your daughter be denied the enjoyable experience available in sport? Do young women deserve fewer opportunities for physical activity than their brothers. Do they need less activity in their lives? Of course not.

The benefits of sport apply to both boys and girls and there is no reason to limit female participation.

Don't compare your child to others

Children learn and improve at different rates in every measurement you can name. Children learn to walk at different ages; talk at different ages. Sport is no different. If two youngsters join a sport at the same time one will invariably improve faster than the other. But as time passes things usually even out. Because of this comparing one child's performance to another doesn't lead to anything useful.

Playing youth sports often sets in motion a lifelong love of activity. This is precisely what we need to battle rising obesity rates and increasing levels of lifestyle diseases. Encourage your child to get involved in sport. If they find one they enjoy then the chance that they will lead a sedentary life is reduced and instead their chance of a long, happy, and active life are increased.