The importance of fostering a safe and enjoyable environment for competitive sports
By Ameeta Vohra
Whether it’s on turf, a field, a baseball diamond or in a pool, sport plays an important role in the lives of many children. And although the competition can sometimes be tough, it should ultimately be all about having fun.
According to Bryce Fisher, provincial under-14 head football coach, this sport provides a great avenue to teach skills and intangibles.
“Like any sport, football can provide life lessons and skills kids need growing up,” he says. “It fosters an environment of good play and sportsmanship, which can translate into life. It gives them that ability to build relationships and a good foundation, whether they continue to play or not.”
Fisher says a lot has changed since he was a kid playing football, especially from a coaching standpoint and with regards to safety.
“There are different techniques now on how to make contact and where your head should be … Concussions are serious, and we teach different techniques than in the past.”
Advancements in equipment have also made the sport safer, including significantly improved helmets.
He notes that the football officials are there to foster a safe environment for children. If they see something that’s incorrect, their job is to address it. This leads players to improve and fine-tune their skills, either on the sidelines or at practice.
The added benefits of sport
Sport enhances physical capabilities with basic movements and skills, plus kids who play sports get out more, run around and have a more active lifestyle. They also gain psychological and emotional benefits through the relationships they make.
“I’ve seen it firsthand where kids can come in shy, then gradually get more comfortable within that environment and continue to grow,” says Fisher.
As a coach, Fisher’s ultimate goal is to make the sport a fun environment for children. He doesn’t like them to feel the weight or pressure of winning.
“We want to make sure kids are out there having fun. That’s what they’re there for,” he says. “Kids need coping mechanisms to get over things, especially at younger and professional levels. Things are going to go wrong. Your ability to bounce back is huge. You can’t let it get to you.”
For the health of it
Sport Nova Scotia encourages children to participate in sports because of the health benefits and the long-term skills and qualities they gain.
“Sport is a great way for children to be active and burn off energy,” says Janessa MacPherson, manager of regional sport development. “We know that children who participate in sport learn a lot about fair play, how to be a part of a team, leadership skills and how to work with others.
“It also builds confidence in their physical abilities, and we know that skills from sports help children later in their professional life. They work hard to be part of a team to win, but they also learn what it’s like to lose and work hard.”
Physically, children get aerobic fitness, muscular strength, endurance and flexi-bility when they compete in sports. All this helps to lower disease risks later in life.
“Sport helps kids learn how to deal with the disappointment of losing,” says MacPherson. “But also, on the flip side, how to be respectful when they win, because you can’t win all the time. There’s a courteous way to win. It teaches children they need to work hard to accomplish things in life and push themselves and do the best they can, and it’s good to celebrate.”
If parents see signs that the pressure of competitive sport is bothering their child, MacPherson encourages them to seek help.
“Health care professionals are a safe space to talk about what they’re feeling,” she says.
Ultimately, MacPherson believes parents are key to fostering a fun environment.
“A child may not always win a medal, but have they broken their record? Have they done something they’ve never done before? Have they built a skill they didn’t have? It’s about celebrating the improvements in skill development and kids finding their strengths. The winning is great, but it’s the hard work we should be celebrating.”