As published by Sun Media (Nov. 8, 2011). / Photo Credit: Little Athletes Big Leaders
Bruce Beaton writes new book about raising young athletes
By Jennifer Schleich
Team sports fill a social niche, allowing a group to set a goal and work together to achieve it. Something which makes sports one of the most important opportunities for learning and growth in a child’s life, if framed in the right environment, according to former Canadian Football League player Bruce Beaton.
“Sports develop leadership skills and interpersonal skills. They help kids develop an ability to connect with people who they might not have much in common with. Everything in sports is a teachable moment and it doesn’t have to be about a win,” he said.
Beaton, who played in the CFL for 11 years for British Columbia, Saskatchewan Rough Riders, Edmonton Eskimos, Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal, recently wrote a book for parents of young athletes, Little Athletes Big Leaders -Effective Sports Parenting. He writes from a perspective that is perfectly familiar, that of the young family in a small town.
Beaton sees the sports environment as so important because it realistically represents the world children will live in when they are adults.
“School, which conditions us to work individually, and where it is often considered cheating to solicit the help of friends, is so unlike the outside world which mirrors the team aspect of sports,” he said.
The book is about how to effectively parent an athlete, how to avoid becoming just another coach, and how to frame the child’s experience in a way that focuses on the approach rather than on their results.
“I wrote the book because when I go to the rink or soccer field with my kids I see well meaning parents saying things to their kids that wouldn’t lead to the results they wanted. I knew they were missing the boat, not because they didn’t care or love their kids, but because they didn’t have the background and extensive experience in sports that I did,” he explained.
According to Beaton parents, especially fathers, have a tendency to become results driven because sports are such a visible facet of their child’s life, as opposed to other parts like school.
“The passion for sports comes from its visibility. Any time a parent watches a child in an endeavour with visible, instantaneous feedback, there is tendency to look at results. Think about school where parents are mostly detached from the process versus the kind of expectation in sports. Because sports are so visible parents want 100% engagement, 100% results,” he said.
Instead, sports should be about realizing there are no instantaneous results, they should be about setting long term goals about what you want to accomplish and figuring out if you are willing to accomplish them.
“It’s important to understand how damaging negative comments from loved ones can really be. For a relationship to thrive there should be a ratio of five positive comments to one negative comment because the negative ones really hurt,” he added.
According to Beaton parents should always find something positive to say about a game, and should never try to address something negative right after practice. If there are lots of positive comments in a child’s life, when it matters and a parent needs to address a negative behaviour the child will respond because it isn’t something they hear every day.
“It’s really about knowing what to praise. Praising the process instead of the results. The difference between the two type of children you can mold is enormous. The programming you have the opportunity to do as a sport parent can completely change what kind of adult you raise,” said Beaton.
It becomes so much easier for a coach to coach when parents realize their job isn’t to coach but to frame the experience. He calls for parents to evaluate situations and have conversations with their children instead of trying to coach.
“Not every situation needs to be a happy one, a winning one, and coaching experiences are the same. A negative coaching experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is all a learning experience. It’s no different than having a teacher for a subject who is weak, in the long run they are just one coach of many who make an impact,” he added.
Some children are exceptionally good at their sport, always drawing attention and landing their name in the local paper, a definite ego-boost and encouragement.
“If your child is a really good player and tends to get in the paper it’s really important to teach humility. Leaders share credit with their team mates, it’s important to teach kids how to do that,” he said.
So what if your child doesn’t like sports, or sports aren’t fun anymore?
“Parents shouldn’t push kids into sports, but they should try and show them there is value beyond fitness, wellness and fun, for instance leadership,” he said.
If sports have lost their spark, perhaps there is too much stress. Beaton says you have to know your kid and what they like to make those changes.
“My kids like spending time with me, for example. So when we are driving to and from practice we spend time together and make it fun in a million ways. Those things help, every time you choose to have fun with your kids you reinforce everything they are learning,” he added.
For Beaton, being a sport parent is one of the most fun things he’s ever done, they are the “good ol’ days”.
“I thoroughly enjoy being a part of the sport community in a small town. It’s been one of the most enjoyable experiences of our life and my wife and I have made so many friends,” he added.
The time he devotes to his children’s participation in sports are hours which are more than worth it, and there are a lot of hours involved.
He says, make sure those hours are spent productively encouraging your child to focus on their aspirations and their work practicing, not on how many goals they scored or how high they can jump.
“Nobody cares afterwords how well they did or what the score was during some game. Focus on the right things.”