From the Coache's Corner: Helping Your Child Succeed In Sports Sep 1, 2012

Originally published in EP Magazine September 2012

Your child's present skills should be part of the discussion. Be honest when you assess your child's skills and potential for success at his or her current level of play and in the future.

By Tom Curry

Each year, many parents ask me the question, "How can I help my son or daughter improve in (their respective sport)?" That answer is not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of variables that parents must consider as they and their child decide to work on improving their skills. Let's look at some of the things to consider as you and your child plan to work at achieving more success by improving skills and really working on developing as an athlete in their chosen sport.

The first thing to consider is money. Private lessons, individual coaching, camps, clinics and the like can be costly. How much parents can afford to put into these things should be discussed before getting involved in these endeavors. The hope of obtaining a college scholarship is just that...a hope. Many other factors are involved besides outstanding skills before Division 1 schools decide to offer scholarships to high school athletes. Level of high school competition, physical size, speed and other physical factors weigh in on college coaches' decisions to offer scholarships to high school athletes.

The next thing to consider is time. Lessons and the like take time and coordination of other family functions. What about siblings? School work, homework and time to be a kid! Family time is important. How much time are you and your child willing to give to improve skills with no guarantee of anything at the end?

Your child's present skills should be part of the discussion. Be honest when you assess your child's skills and potential for success at his or her current level of play and in the future. I once saw a high school tennis match where a young lady was playing doubles and was not as skilled as her teammate or opponents. Clearly overmatched and struggling, I was stunned when the other school's athletic director told me that the student's parents had told him that they were no longer worried about Division 1 scholarships for their daughter. They would now focus on Division 3 schools for her to play at in college. Now a student who was not even the top player on her high school team has little chance to play at the college level in any division unless there is a dramatic improvement in her skills in a short period of time. The parents were simply not being honest in their assessment of their daughter's tennis skills and physical abilities.

What is your child's level of interest? Mild interest may not be in anyone's best interests to begin lessons in any sport. Forcing a child's interest in an activity may backfire. Let your son or daughter dictate whether or not they are really interested in pursuing their sport seriously. Time and money may be better spent in a different way, rather than trying to force an interest in a sport with a child who has little interest. Let your child give you the signs or even ask before starting lessons. I have seen some children tire very quickly of lessons because they were forced into starting lessons.

Socialization with peers and individual growth should be an outcome of lessons in sports. Find a teacher/tutor who also happens to teach skills beyond hitting a baseball or softball. Effort, hard work, resiliency, sportsmanship and preparation should be part of lessons in sports. It's never just about skills. The most highly skilled athletes don't always win. The ability to get off the ground and get back upon your feet and back into the game is a skill that will serve your child well in sports and in life. That coach or tutor should also stress that besides physical skills, it's necessary to get along with your teammates, coaches, classmates, friends and whoever else crosses your path. Whether a teammate or leader, social skills development is a crucial part of growing up and the time spent in lessons can be a great way for young people to work on the skills that will help them every day. Leadership comes in different forms. Some leaders are quiet, some are loud. A good tutor or coach will include reminders about life skills while also teaching sport skills.

It's important to remember that skills taught must be practiced. Lessons without practice are useless, while practice without lessons is also useless. Practice time must be blended with lesson time. Your child should like to practice, working to perfect what he or she can do and learn to work on those things that they cannot do well. Good coaches and teachers make their students uncomfortable. That is, they get their students to do what they are not comfortable doing, but are necessary to be able to be successful in that sport. The young athlete must learn the skills and strategies that will help the athlete achieve and the team well. That is not always easy. Sacrifice and dedication are usually the hallmark of any successful athlete. It's not easy. It's not meant to be. There are no "magic tricks" to becoming a good and even great athlete. It always manages to come down to hard work. There is no getting around it. To improve in sports, practice is the most important part of any plan.

Lastly, when you decide to pick a tutor or specialized coach for your child, make sure you hear the word "fun" in any discussion held regarding lessons for sport improvement. It's still "play softball," "play golf," "play whatever." Play calls us to have fun! Fun is why we play and, the more fun your child has, the more his or her love for the game they choose will grow.

The author Tom Curry is the Director of Athletics at the Bergenfield High School Athletic Department.

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