The things we say…

This is a true story, and with athletics season now underway, it needs to be told.

I once saw a grown man running around the inside of a grass athletics track, with his arm outstretched, providing encouragement to a group of young kids running towards him. The children, aged about 8 or 9, were completing a 400m race at their local Little Athletics Club. The adult was not in sports gear, was not holding a relay baton, was not a coach, and was not saying anything practical, sensible or useful.

Nor was he shouting the usual inane instructions that you hear during kid’s races.

You know what I mean… The crazy mum that stands there screaming at her kid, “RUUUUUUNNN. RUUUUUUN FASTER.” If I was a cartoonist, I would draw said kid looking equal parts embarrassed and exasperated, with a thought bubble floating above his head…

On this particular occasion, this grown man was wearing jeans, holding a hot dog in his outstretched arm, was the dad of one of the young runners, and was shouting words so stupid it hurts me to write them.  

“CHASE THE DOG…” he screamed.  “CHAAAAAAAAASE THE DOOOOOOOG.”

Over, and over, and over again as he ran the final 150m of the race, just ahead of the pack and in full view of all the kids and parents at that club.

I kid you not. His words of encouragement for the young mind in his care, were bribery based on the promise of a hottie and sauce, should his son be able to go the distance. Like a greyhound chases a lure, he thought his son would chase the hot dog.

As parents, we have such enormous influence over our children and their attitudes to sport in the words that we say, and the way that we act.

Angry screaming, instructional overload (especially where it conflicts with the coach’s instruction), poor sportsmanship and of course bribery are just some of the behaviours to avoid. Plus, in case you missed this point earlier, idiotic hot dog related behaviour where you involve yourself in the actual race should be avoided at all costs.

Also to be avoided is an overemphasis on winning and competitive outcomes, over the top parental celebrations, or anything that overstates a child’s capabilities or destiny. This goes out to all those parents who have decided with absolute certainty that their talented 5-year-old kid is in fact the next Buddy Franklin or Sally Pearson, which they happily announce to the world whilst high fiving anyone in sight and accepting personal congratulations for their child prodigy. Pressure much?

Let the 5-year-old be a 5-year-old…. having fun, enjoying sport with his or her mates.

So, what should you say?

Before sport, the best words going around are, “Have fun!”

After sport, there are six words that are widely touted as the best thing that parents can say to their kid and they are, “I love watching you play sport.”

Simple as that. Just ask Olympic gold medallist and father of three, James Tomkins.

Video clip: 2019 National Sport Integrity Forum presented by Victoria University and The Sport Australia Hall of Fame