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PE stands for physical education, but sport can teach children so much that isn’t physical. Sport can aid a child’s personal development in a myriad of ways, from learning how to function as part of a team, to learning those leadership skills that will aid them as adults. However, a child’s personal development depends on the examples around them. It depends on role models. If we want our children to be positive, show sportsmanship and respect, we must imprint those values on their impressionable minds from a young age. Here’s a sure fire way to inspire and lead by example.

A positive influencer

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) defines a role model as ‘a person who serves as an example by influencing others.’ So, whether you’re a coach or a parent, we must start by extolling the virtues that we want to see in children and be a positive influence.

For a start, this means showing encouragement, fostering growth and not frustration. If a child is struggling to learn a particular skill, don’t just say ‘you’re doing it all wrong’, be positive and say, for instance, ‘that’s great, but have you tried catching the ball with two hands.’ Adults need to be a positive voice that aids a child’s exploration and development, not a critical voice that disparages. Encouraging new techniques and behaviours inspires a child with a sense of adventure.

Secondly, watch your own behaviour. If a child notices adults throwing water bottles and using bad language, this reinforces the idea that there is an acceptable mode of behaviour. We all know a children’s propensity to mimic adults, so don’t do things in front of them that we would not like to see them copy. Be who we want them to be.

It’s not all about winning

Great role models don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Most children are not going to grow up to be professional athletes who win, win, win. After all, even the greatest athletes lose sometimes. What is important is that children enjoy physical activity first and foremost. Before winning comes making friends and acquiring a positive relationship with sport that they’ll take into their adult life. Learning to lose and still see the positive benefits of sport is important. If adults instil a fear of failure, then a child may just run away from sport altogether.

For Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist and professor at the University of Washington, ‘Parents should never shout criticism or instruction at their children – even to teammates and opponents. If parents wish to shout encouragement or praise, codes of sportsmanship dictate that recognition be given to other athletes as well.’

Effective role models appreciate good behaviour and success in all, not just the team or individual they want to win. Good sportsmanship begins with parents, coaches and any other adults on the touchline. Reward effort and good behaviour, not just winning.

Balance

Sport and physical activity are a key part of a healthy and happy lifestyle, but they’re not the only part. Good role models exude balance, they show children the importance of valuing numerous things in life, not just sport. By helping children to nurture multiple hobbies and interests we are giving them multiple arenas for their personal growth. Multiple places for them to build self-confidence and find fulfilment. If the only place they get self-esteem from is sport, then where does that leave them if results don’t go their way, or they can’t play sport due to an injury? Novak Djokovic is the tennis world number one, but he’s also a keen chess player. Daniil Medvedev is the world number two, but he loves to kick back and play video games when he wants to forget about the tennis court. Moderation is everything.

Final thought

A positive sporting role model does not have to be a big name professional athlete with a multi-million dollar shoe deal, it can be you. That someone who exudes fair play, integrity and keeps an eye on the bigger picture. We can all make a difference to children’s lives by being someone worth emulating.

At The Little Foxes Club, we are passionate about involving young people in sports and setting a good example on and off the pitch. Find a class near you today.

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