Is sport an essential part of your life? I can only imagine the response that question will get amongst a group of blokes.
Firstly, it’s a way of proving our masculinity. Men are active, so we run, we jump, we test our bodies. Second, it’s a way of strengthening our bodies, keeping ourselves flexible and up to life’s challenges. Third, in a world where men get criticised a lot, sport is a safe way of having fun and getting rid of stress. Fourth, sport lets us interact acceptably with other men, and sometimes women, too.
So let’s think about getting a boy to enjoy kids sport. We’ll get to daughters in a moment.
Many athletes have followed their dads into sport. Michael Jordan said “I’m alone in the car, but my father is with me. I think about him every day. I think about what advice he would give me. I’m here for him”.
It would be great to be this guy’s dad. But step back. Your son wants your approval and respect. He’s not going to be Michael Jordan. Don’t wreck your relationship with your son by nagging, pushing him too hard, or trying to make him into something he isn’t. Put your worries aside and work through “sure, son, you can do it”.
What do you like doing sport-wise? In my case, it was canoeing. And when I took my kids canoeing, we all had fun. When I asked my kids the best times we’d had, they all said it was canoeing. I was relaxed, I felt good, and I didn’t push. My son had joined a few kids sport teams and didn’t like them. The family canoeing just happened naturally.
Start with your preferred sport. Take him along. Try a few sports, see what he feels confident at. And don’t be mad at him if he doesn’t do what you want. Many of us were no good at several sports. I was hopeless at many of them. Then I just found something fun-canoeing. And my kids followed me.
Teach him some skills. Kids should learn to swim. Dads jump into swimming lessons with a pile of other parents. Maybe it’s mostly mums, but who cares? Then there are ball sports. Many sports depend on hand-eye coordination. Show him how to catch a ball, and throw a ball. Use different types of balls, encourage him to practice and improve. There are endless amounts of other activities, too. Kids these days have access to sports unheard of in my day! Some are individual, some in teams. Some ultra-competitive; others not so much. See what they like and help them succeed.
Remember, this is about your relationship. OK, so he’s not Michael Jordan. Maybe he’ll be a star in something else. It could e-sports or even parkour – we’ve all seen Australian Ninja Warrior! To him,kids sport might mean something very different from what you imagine. This is not about you – it’s about him.
Don’t be a dad screaming at the referee on the sidelines. No child wants that! Encourage, push gently, be a shoulder they can lean on. Be as positive as you can.
GIRLS CAN PLAY FOOTY, TOO!
Now we turn to daughters. Come on Dad, get with the times. There’s almost no limit to sports for girls these days: kick-boxing, touch footy, rowing, rugby, whatever. Your daughter wants you to support her, whatever choice she makes, even if it’s slightly unorthodox. Don’t be an old grump and expect her to live in the eighteenth century, just watching boys play sport! See what she wants to do and help her do it.
By encouraging kids sport in your family, you’re giving your children something important, helping them to connect with their peers and earn respect from others. Many of us remember the skills our dads taught us. Think how great it will be when your kid remembers how you helped them get strong, make friends and have fun. Sport is a great way to connect with others and make friends, you’ll probably make a few too.
Keep the ideas coming. Maybe the kids want to bushwalk or do gymnastics, baseball, little athletics, surfing, skating, anything!
You should be the encourager-in-chief. Not the cranky coach!
So work hard at getting your kids into sport. Sure, you’re tired on the weekend, but give it your best shot. The bonding you’re creating should last a lifetime.
Dr Peter West is a casual lecturer, Australian Catholic University, Sydney. His website is boyseducation.com.au