With one teenager finishing last term with a hockey tour and one starting this term with a cricket tour, I am reminded of the value of sport in my teens' lives not only from the obvious perspective of benefiting from exercise, but also more universally in helping to prepare them for life beyond the playground.
Like many other parents I have stood on my fair share of pitches, but despite the sometimes untold agony of getting them up on time, the arguments about lost kit, the moaning about unfair referees and umpires plus the occasional tears at not being selected, I believe it has been worth every minute and equipped them with some valuable life lessons.
Children do not enter this world "naturally" sporty, it requires effort from us as parents to introduce them to exercise and start shaping their attitude to physical activity. This starts as early as the toddler years with the interminable games of "catch" and trips to the playground in all weathers - albeit as an underhand means of ensuring our children are completely exhausted in time for bed.
The primary school years, however, are when it starts in earnest. School sports days sort the wheat from the chaff on the athletics track among the children and the parents, in a bid for the unspoken but cherished title of "most sporty family". It is also the first time that our children are chosen for teams based on their ability and start to understand the value of healthy competition, because let's face it competitive environments are everywhere in life.
Then there is the scrum for places at local sporting clubs, some of which can involve a wait of several years for a space to come free.
Once your child has their place and has been accepted into the inner sanctum of the local sporting elite, even if they absolutely hate it, throw regular hissy fits on the field or are just down right rubbish, you stay put, resolute in the belief that as well as getting them out of the house, it is a learning ground for those all important life skills of teamwork, leadership, responsibility, discipline, coping with failure and last but not least "strategic thinking".
Yes who would have thought sport could be credited with providing our offspring with such a vast array of cognitive functions?
Surely there was an age when sport's primary purpose was enjoyment at being active, but that is certainly not the case now. Being sporty is a badge to be worn with pride and demonstrates a prowess unattainable to any other group theatrical or musical, despite all requiring many of the same skill sets of co-operation, stamina, flexibility and dedication.
Woe betide you if are one of those parents on the sports field that dares to say the immortal words to your child that it's not about the "winning" but the "taking part". This suggests a lack of resilience and commitment and will provoke an array of reactions from eye rolling and tutting to full on ostracization.
In what other extra curricular activity does your child get exposed to such open criticism?
Despite my glibness though, I confess to being one of those parents who champions the importance of sport and fall genuinely into the camp of mums who just want my children to "take part".
As a fair weather exerciser I am not a tiger mum by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years I have carefully cajoled and manipulated my teens from an early age into sporting positions they may not naturally have gravitated towards themselves.
I signed them up for local sporting clubs before I knew if they were interested or even capable. I offered my services when needed to serve tea and bake cakes for tournaments (admittedly under duress) and have even flown the flag of loud supporter on occasions, if sometimes for the opposing team!
Equally though I have stood and cringed on the sidelines as my children made innumerable mistakes, let down the team and themselves and of course embarrassed me! It is all part of life's rich parenting tapestry.
But regardless of all this I gritted my teeth, rose above it and reassured them that "at least they tried their best", only to go home, drink copious glasses of wine and rant to my husband.
My husband however is the true champion, investing true blood, sweat and tears into our children's sporting lives. He has patiently taught Teen 1 how to handle a rugby ball and coached at his local club for years. He has also spent hours of his life he will never get back teaching him how to bowl and has regularly run training sessions for Teen 2's hockey club. This is before we even count the hours of driving, sometimes half way across the South of England to get them to matches or to pick them up, before returning home and doing a quick turnaround to catch a plane - all whilst I just prepare lunch!
From my view on the sideline though, I think that what sport does best for children is break down barriers and open up opportunities.
Our local sports clubs are full of children from different backgrounds and with a range of abilities and the same is true at my teens' schools. Diversity is essential to all walks of life but a love of sport unifies people in a way that nothing else can.
Its vision is that everyone in England regardless of age, background or ability feels able to take part in sport and a significant part of this is to increase the proportion of young people (11-18) who have a positive attitude to sport and being active.
At secondary school there is no doubt that it is all far more competitive as everyone jostles for a place in the 1st and 2nd team and the chance to represent their school and perhaps earn a much coveted place on a sports tour. It is easy for children to drop out of exercise during this period. The challenge at this stage as Sport England recognises is to keep our children doing sport and make exercise a natural part of their life to keep them active well into the future.
Watching my own children over the years I can resolutely say that they have grown from sports shy individuals to competent young players who genuinely get a buzz from being part of a team and being active. What sport does really well is give children a sense of worth, bring them together and give them a common purpose. Your prowess in the classroom or the playground is irrelevant to what happens on the sports field.
Sport encourages children to move outside their comfort zone and mix with others they would maybe not normally interact with. In this ever changing and reactive world this is surely a good thing, irrespective of ability.
So as I drove my eldest and his mates to their first pre-season training cricket match and listened to their "bants" I was reminded of identical circumstances this time last year. My husband away on business and a car full of jesting teenage boys with their "that's so jokes" comments, looking forward to a season's cricket amidst the pressure of their exams.
It reminded me that actually the real value of sport to our children is not the cognitive strategic skills they come away with but the comaraderie, the genuine enjoyment, the escapism from the pressure of performing in the classroom and most importantly of all, the memories of when they got it wrong as well as right, which are truly irreplaceable. After all life is built on memories, they stay with us forever and hold us all together.
What do you think about the role of sport for our children? Does sport play a big part in your lives? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you enjoyed this article please give it a share.
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My favorite for the week is written by Jo – Mother of Teenagers – What Is The Real Value Of Sport To Our Children. We are definitely a sporting family! I love seeing kids outdoors and releasing energy. I also have a kid that is not too sporty but they love being on the sidelines rooting the rest of them on! It sure beats sitting inside!!
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