“Not a sporty person” — the phrase that sports teachers have written on countless school reports over the decades. Once uttered by a teacher to a student’s parent, it usually sounds the death knell for any potential sporting achievement. The problem is, this often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The damage to a child’s confidence can prevent them from enjoying sports, causing them to stop trying. As more naturally-able children begin to take priority when being picked for teams, a vicious cycle develops where the child gets fewer opportunities to practice and improve.  The benefits of child sports are many, including better fitness, as well as improved confidence and drive. Sport also helps to foster teamwork skills and teach children to respect others. So what is the best course of action for parents to take if they feel their child is being sidelined?

The answer is to prioritize their child’s enjoyment of sport. One of the problems with school sports is the lack of variety. Most schools concentrate on core sports such as soccer, football, baseball and basketball, so it can be difficult for children to find their niche with this relatively narrow range of available activities. Therefore, parents shouldn’t be too quick to write their child off as not being sporty. Part of the problem may be that they just haven’t found a sport that suits them.

Parents should encourage their children to consider the wide range of sports available, both in and out of school. Many children find ball-based sports uninspiring and would prefer to try something completely different. Less publicized sports such as fencing and eastern martial arts are gaining popularity. Sports such as judo and kung fu are excellent for fitness, and they also teach self-control, body coordination and discipline. Furthermore, these sports are often based on technique rather than physicality. While being technically challenging, they provide an opportunity for children of all physical types to excel.

Another point of consideration for parents is that not all children thrive in team-based sports. Many sports add the pressure of competition before children have mastered the basic techniques, and the subsequent feeling of having “let down the team” can be demotivating for a child. More individualistic children may prefer sports such as running or gymnastics. These particular sports allow children to develop their skills without the pressure of competition, and they can also incorporate team-based activities.

Parents should also ensure that the school is providing the support that their child needs. Without a supportive atmosphere that rewards effort and improvement with opportunity, many children will simply give up. The “jock” culture that exists in many schools is extremely toxic. Sport should be about mutual respect, and humiliation on the sports field is simply unacceptable.

Any child can and should enjoy sports. The first question that parents of children who are doing badly at sports should ask is, “Are they enjoying it?” Once the element of enjoyment has been restored, achievement may well follow.