Sporty kids and pushy parents
How much encouragement is too much?

Sunday 1 November, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Café

Children can benefit from the support of their parents when taking part in sport, just as in their school work or music lessons, but when does loving encouragement spill over into ‘pushy parents’ applying unfair pressure to succeed? Should children from a very young age be pushed to focus on being the swiftest, highest or strongest, or should children’s sport put healthy fun before competitive excellence? Even a success story like diver Tom Daley, who represented Britain at the Olympics last year at the age of 14, has been subject to intense pressure, and bullying about his fame, so is it worth it? Some schools have gone so far as to abandon competitive sports altogether, even scrapping sports days. Meanwhile, the government-backed Child Protection in Sport website warns parents of sporty kids that their approval is important to their children’s self-esteem and so, ‘You should not make negative, personalised comments or punish them in any way’. But is it the place of strangers to lecture parents on how to encourage their own kids? Is there a danger of demonising the kind of impassioned support and feedback that might spur children on to succeed at the sports they enjoy so much?

Commentators often argue it is selfish of parents to put children through hours of training to fulfil their ambition for their child to be a professional tennis player or an Olympic competitor, but top athletes generally think their achievements outweigh the loss of a ‘normal’ childhood. Few children can hope to reach the pinnacle of their sport, but isn’t a competitive spirit essential even to enjoying amateur sport? Is parental encouragement an essential antidote to the unambitious, ‘all must have prizes’ tenor of our times or do pushy parents take the joy out of sport for young people, turning it into a chore rather than a pleasure?

Nicola Pearson
freelance journalist, mainly for The Times, Independent and Evening Standard

Dr Katherine Rake
CEO, Family and Parenting Institute

Sally Millard
co-founder, IoI Parents Forum

Dan Travis
director, Brighton Salon; tennis coach; author How to teach Young Children Tennis and In Defence of Competitive Sport.

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Sally Millard co-founder, IoI Parents Forum
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