Angela Hucles, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, is often asked by parents what to consider when helping their child choose a sport.
“As a coach and mentor who has played on many team-focused sports myself,” she said in a news release, “I often get asked by parents, ‘What’s the best sport my child should get into?’ ‘Will my kid fit in with everyone else?’ ‘Bullying seems to be everywhere; how prevalent is it in youth team sports?’ ”
As a result, Hucles compiled the following tips:
1. What sport is the best one for my child? Parents who played sports when they were kids will more than likely steer their child to a sport they played, especially if they know a lot about it. It’s great when a child can share the same experiences, but the best first step is to talk to your child – ask what they might like to try. Every sport offers a different experience. Your neighborhood may offer community programs that are budget-friendly. Ask another parent, check online for local programs, or the school for sports-related activities. The best thing about childhood is that kids can try several sports every year. If it’s not a good fit, learn from the experience and try something new the next season.
2. What if my child doesn’t make friends? Should I be worried about bullying? Just like any relationship, a “team connection” doesn’t happen overnight. Never force your child to make friends, but encourage them to be themselves and let it happen on their terms. Unfortunately, studies show that 77 percent of all students K-12 have been bullied at some point in their lives – and regretfully, it happens on the best of teams. Fortunately, there are a growing number of organizations that enlist coaches who have training in recognizing bullying and can stop it before you even notice it.
3. Should I intervene if I see bullying during my kids sporting event? There’s a very good chance that if it’s happening out in the field with another player, the referee or a head coach will intervene. If you’re seeing repetitive unsportsmanlike behavior that concerns you, inform the coaches immediately, but let it be known that you’ve witnessed the bullying so incidents can be monitored in the future. While all teams have strict rules about how parents interact in a team dynamic, parent input is valued and respected.
4. I’m not able to get to all the practices, but my child has been acting differently, and I think there might be issues with the other kids. What should I do? There’s nothing worse than feeling alone, especially when you’re a kid. But the best support is parent support. Take the time to talk to your child when you’re back at home and completely removed from the team environment and conversation. Support them by hearing what they have to say and repeat it back so they feel you understand and are validating their feelings. Come up with steps to address the issue appropriately and then check back in with each other on a regular basis. As always, mention the issue to the coaches. If it’s happening on the team, it should be a team effort in resolving it.
Angela Hucles is the Los Angeles regional director for Up2Us, a nonprofit organization using sports to help address youth challenges in the U.S.; local organizations that use the group’s principles include Algonquin Sports for Kids in Buffalo, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns, and United 86 Soccer Academy in Portville.