It’s tough making the move from primary to high school for several reasons, but the struggles in the sports realm often go undiscussed. Whether it’s moving from being the top athlete at a small school to being one of many good athletes at a large school, dealing with body issues, or deciding on your sporting goals, high school sports bring a host of new challenges.
As your child moves into high school, there’s a shift in the balance of responsibility. Your child needs to move towards a greater level of independence, in making decisions and then following through on those. It’s important to sit down with them at the beginning of the year to discuss sport for the year. Is your child a top athlete, who will be wanting to focus on sport? Are they a decent athlete who enjoys sport and being part of a team? Or are they a reluctant athlete, for whom sport may be a struggle? Going into the year with a shared understanding will be beneficial to everyone.
When you approach sport together, remember that what your dreams and ambitions are might not be the same as your child’s. Putting too much pressure on children can discourage them and turn them against sport entirely. Other factors like peer pressure, and issues of identity formation can affect your child’s interest in sport. Teenagers can be particularly harsh with insults about people’s ability and appearance, and those for whom sport is not a natural skill can become easily depressed. Gentle encouragement and reminders that sport is beneficial for a number of reasons – and in many cases compulsory – are encouraged. Likewise, incidences of bullying and teasing should be taken seriously, and reported where appropriate.
On the other hand, if your child is truly passionate, you need to be ready to support and encourage them. Remind them that things will be changing, and that they shouldn’t be depressed if they’re not immediately perceived as top athletes. Decisions about team positions are often based off a single trial, and if you don’t make that first cut you need to prove yourself by showing your skills and perseverance in a lower team. For the best sporting achievers, high school often brings opportunities for better coaching, stiffer competition, and a chance to take your sports to the next level.
Keep an eye on your child and their sporting interest and enthusiasm through the year. Keep an eye out for changes which seem out of character, and engage your child about them. They might be embarrassed to talk to you about the struggles they’re facing. It’s important to emphasize that you love them, and that their sporting achievements won’t ever alter that. Balancing encouragement and belief in their abilities with a pragmatic approach is tricky.
This is a new phase for everyone, and probably both sides will make mistakes. Love, open and frequent communication, and compassion are the key to making it a success.