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Playing Is Learning 

 Teaching a child to compete is important, whether it is in athletics, academics or the arts. But before you and your children start dreaming about gold medals or making it to The Final Four, consider that there are right and wrong ways to help them set -- and achieve -- their goals. Through my work as a official and having observed kids and their parents for 30 years, I've come up with the following do’s and don’ts list.  


  • If your resources allow, give your child a chance to explore various sports (or other competitive activities), and see if your child feels a special attachment to any one. If so, then try to identify any special abilities that you might want to nurture.
  • Even if your child is not particularly talented, sports can still be a great socializing experience. Participating in sports can provide many lessons about life. In team sports, a child can learn how to work with others and will have a chance to develop important friendships. In addition, he or she will learn how to bounce back from a loss, as well as how to appreciate a victory.
  • In sports, children can breakthrough what they thought were limits, something that can especially help them deal with the tough times that come in adult life.
  • Practice, especially if it is the first thing in the morning, will help get your child out of the house and away from passive pursuits, such as watching TV and playing video games.
  • If your child shows special abilities, it should be a family decision as to how intensively this talent should be pursued. The family should share in the decisions about how many hours a day the child will practice, how much money can be invested in supporting these activities and who will be responsible for supervising all elements pertaining to practice.
There are payoffs for excellence. Some children obtain college scholarships. Others are recruited as professional athletes or earn endorsements as Olympic medalists. Some, simply become role models, either at their schools or on a national platform. The question a parent must ask, however, is what is in the best interests of a child, and the answer may be different for each child.  

 Here are some basic do nots to consider.  


  • Remember that your child can’t fulfill your own unmet dreams of glory. Rather, your child must find his or her own dreams. Pushing children too hard can rob them of their childhood’s or turn them into one-track kids who do nothing but practice.
  • Parents have to think long and hard about pushing a child to compete in a sport where serious and permanent injury can result. This is not a decision that a child is able to make and it is the parent who bears considerable responsibility here. Similarly, there is no point in pushing a child beyond his or her maximum stress levels. If this is done repeatedly, it can result in the child falling victim to eating disorders or substance abuse problems.
  • Even is your child is really good at one sport, be sure to have a back-up plan for an alternate career. Eventually, all careers in sports end, and a parent needs to instill in a child at an early age that they will have to do something else when their days in sports are over. Never underestimate the importance of academics. 
With these thoughts in mind, competition in sports can be very advantageous. Competition builds self-esteem, creates a strong durable body, teaches winning and losing and how to be a team player. And who knows where it leads? There's at least one athlete this political season on a presidential ticket.