Sports Education

Building children’s self-esteem

On a flight from Washington D.C. to California some years ago, a passenger sitting beside me inquired what I was working on that seemed to have all my attention.  I mentioned I was working on my next book, which was about the impact of sports and physical activity on a young person’s success in life. My fellow passenger thought for a long minute, and said: “You know, I’ve often thought that if I could be God for just a few seconds, the one thing I would grant people would be the ability to feel better about themselves.”

In over half a century that I have been working with children and adults as a counselor, corporate and sports consultant, development of self-esteem has been the most frequently requested topic in workshops. And in counseling and one-on-one coaching sessions, self-esteem, and how adults and youth should assess themselves quickly becomes a major theme of conversation.

The dictionary describes self-esteem as “belief in oneself, self-respect”. In short, when people talk about someone having self-esteem, they mean that the person has self- acceptance and believes she is worthy of respect and love. People who have high self-esteem and self-confidence tend to be more successful with friendships, and in business, love and sports. Good things seem to happen for them; their relationships are more solid and enduring; they get things done, and they derive greater enjoyment from work and play.

Self-esteem is an enduring virtue which lasts a lifetime. Children with healthy self-esteem have no inhibitions while interacting with others, are comfortable in diverse social settings and enjoy group activities as well as independent pursuits. When confronted with problems they work towards finding solutions.

It can’t be grown in an incubator; it is the outcome of a childhood development process that streams into adulthood. In sports arenas and playing fields worldwide, there are many ways in which parents, teachers and coaches can develop the self-esteem of their children. Given below are eight guidelines for building your child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Sports should be fun for children. If you listen to kids or read reports about why they play sports, it should become obvious that the number one reason is to have fun. Fun, play and games make up the special world of children. It’s our job as parents, teachers and coaches to let children enjoy sports and physical activity.

Become a positive role model. If you are excessively harsh or demanding of yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your child will mirror you. You are a role model in how you react to a close contest or a poor call by an umpire or referee. Remain calm and in control. In short, nurture your own self-esteem, and your child will have an ideal role model.

Watch your words. Children are very sensitive to what parents say. Therefore, give positive and constructive feedback. A child’s self-esteem is based on what they hear about themselves from others, especially parents. The more a child hears positives about herself, the better the chance of a positive self-image.

Focus on potential instead of limitations. The traditional approach towards change and improvement is to look for weaknesses and address them. The primary focus is on what’s wrong or broken. A better approach is to develop your child’s strengths and positives. This will make her feel stronger and more confident about confronting  weaknesses and shortcomings.

Help your kids to detach achievement from self-esteem. To transform from what they accomplish to who they are.  Too many sportspersons and high achievers attach self-worth to their performance and outcomes. Help your child understand that she is a person who is also an athlete instead of an athlete, who is also a person. Success or trophies should not determine a child’s self-esteem or sense of self-worth.

Your agenda is not necessarily your child’s. Kids participate in sports and games for many reasons. They may enjoy competition, like being part of a team, and enjoy the challenge of setting goals. You might have a different agenda from your child, and sometimes you may need to accept that their sport is not yours.

Encourage children to develop a sense of humour, laughter and a love of play. The defining quality of children and adults with low self-esteem, is that they take themselves too seriously and lack a sense of humour. Anything you can do to lighten up kids will help!

Set realistic goals. It’s amazing how children will go to any extreme (especially when they are young) to win their parents’ approval. Sports provide you an opportunity to give unqualified, absolute approval to your children just for participating. To avoid setting unrealistic goals, parents need to understand the physical and emotional capabilities of children at all ages, to resist any and all temptations to get caught up in fantasies of “fame and fortune” through professional sports or scholarships.

(Dr. George A. Selleck is a San Francisco-based advisor to EduSports, Bangalore)