Challenges for Youth – How adults can help
10 big reasons parents and coaches should read this NOW.
Guiding and coaching youth for their physical, mental and emotional needs requires an approach different from treating them as miniature adults.
Here’s what you need to remember to stay on top of things and up your game, while upping theirs, without going bananas.
I recently conducted a webinar with parents of young children & adolescents, some beginners in sports, and some graduating to competitive levels. We covered concerns relating to physical training, nutrition, injury management etc. The questions coming my way revealed some interesting insights, not all surprising. Sharing a few observations for the parent/adult in you:
1) Children aren’t miniature adults.
Their training programs need to be intelligently designed for their age group and commensurate with their development timelines and individual growth spurts. One of the important reasons for non-adherence, injuries and children dropping out of programs is mindless and ignorant imposition of stamp sized versions of adult trainings.
2) Children are sensitive.
They process emotions differently. And quite so often, they may not be able to articulate these. Instead, their behaviour might seem changed or amiss. Addressing their fears, performance pressures, feelings of comparison, inadequacies, coping with losing, goal setting etc. needs intuitive as well as studied handling.
3) Children are more resilient, than we give them credit for.
We need to allow them the trust to dig within and build their reserve. We want to protect them and see them soar – sometimes at once. It’s a fine balance between holding on and letting go. Throw in the pressures of competitive sports and academics – it’s another level. There is no right or wrong or sitting on judgement. It’s more a test we adults have to repeatedly face on our own and what works for our friends, relatives, acquaintances may not work for us. Even if the kids participate in the same activity.
4) Like adults, they are prone to burnouts – physical, mental and emotional.
We want our kids to be ready to take on the big, bad world. And grow up ‘right’ (?). But let’s not go overboard by treating their lives as a spreadsheet with 24 hour columns. And we don’t have to fill in every column for them. Let them fill some. It’s okay to have some blank ones. Build in breaks to help them refocus, recharge. Relentless monitoring is akin to trying to live their lives for them. Not only is it stressful for children, it makes for stressed out parents – which certainly does not bode well for anyone’s mental health.
5) Coaches and parents need to have open lines of communication, support each other, recognize and respect boundaries.
Both parenting and coaching are dynamic processes. And both processes need to synergistically operate to serve another process – growth and development of the child. Parents and coaches should periodically share insights and observations with each other. This translates into better and long lasting outcomes.
6) Be careful of using terms and benchmarks loosely.
The expression “average child” came up during discussions. I would like to share a quote here which I find pertinent. “Ask any child development expert, and they will tell you that children do not develop in a straight line. There are no average children. There are no standard children.” ~ Cassi Clausen
Our barometers and benchmarks could be misinformed or ill defined. Worse, they could have a destructive effect on morale.
7) Give play importance.
Structured training is vital. But don’t undermine the role of play (as in playing just for fun). Children learn a lot equally while simply playing. Play is a form of free expression of what lies in a child and an important tool in their development, just as eating and sleeping are. Allow it, encourage it.
8) Watch out for, and resist projections.
Let’s resist trying to vicariously fulfill our ambitions through our children, and let us not hold them to standards of perfection and achievement higher than what we can attain ourselves or desire we had. Whether one is a sport mom/dad oneself, or wish one had taken up something in their younger days, we could be unknowingly indulging in projecting our aspirations onto our kids. It doesn’t help. Watch out for it.
9) Be realistic.
If your child wishes to pursue competitive sports, know that a lot of her/his time, energy and attention will be spent practicing and honing their craft. Performing equally well in academics may not be possible. Accept this. Given how competitive and demanding academics have become, help them prioritize goals, manage time and reduce stress. Make it clear to the school and teachers as well. Their support can make things immensely easier and smoother for the child. Desist trying to make children ‘super beings’ – ace performers in everything and anything. It’s simply not worth the bragging rights. The incumbent mental stress may not auger well for the future.
10) Importantly – don’t forget the child in you!
The future belongs to the young, but there’s no reason we should be caught up being stiff adults all the time of our ‘grown up’ lives. It just makes the task of parenting and guiding more daunting for us. Fun should not have an expiry date. A reminder my spirited, and often naughty, young clients keep giving me. 🙂