Being a parent is incredible and without doubt the most rewarding part of my life, but of course it comes with massive challenges! When I became a parent for the first time I obviously had no experience and the actual reality of it all was so daunting! but the moment I held the little one in my arms for the first time that love and bond I felt was so powerful and I knew I was ready for the challenge!
All we really want is to see our children happy and there’s no better feeling than seeing children enjoying themselves having fun. My wife and I had our first child when I was a 23 year old professional football player and little one number two joined us a couple of years later. Not surprisingly, both of the boys fell in love with football very quickly. They didn’t have much choice as from babies they were carted off to watch me play at the various clubs I played for wearing the shirts, with my number on the back!
Football was certainly part of their life from a young age, and there was nothing I loved more than introducing them to the game, kicking a ball about in the garden or if the weather was bad, perhaps in the living room!
It wasn’t long before my eldest joined his first team and at the age of around six we would take him to the training and games to continue to enjoy the game he’d fallen in love with. It also wasn’t long before I was asked to help out coaching the team, which to be honest I wasn’t too keen on but ended up agreeing to do so, after much badgering! And in fact, I actually quite enjoyed it!
But I quickly noticed I found myself being harder on my own son than the other kids, being more demanding, expecting higher standards, and he was only 6! He was without doubt very talented for his age and got invited to train with a number of professional clubs development centres. I thought this was a great chance to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and become a professional!
Over the next couple of months I would try and force upon him lessons that I had learnt to become a footballer, telling him what would be expected if he wanted to ‘get in’. I was treating him like a mini professional. On the journey to and from training and games I was expecting his young mind to take it all in and put all of my advice into practice. It was crazy and something I’m very ashamed of! It came from a place of arrogance and ego, where I expected him to excel in football just because I was a professional player.
I learnt very quickly that I was going about this all wrong! One minute I was playing Power Rangers with him having the time of his life, the next I was telling him he had to work harder on the way home from training! It came to the point where he didn’t want me to take him to football anymore, and it broke my heart! When I was a child playing football I didn’t have any pressure put on me, it was all about having fun and enjoying it and without doubt that’s a massive reason I managed to play at a good level but more importantly, why I still love the game today.
Something had to change, and obviously that had to be me! I had to win my little boy’s trust back. And so, I completely changed the way I spoke to him on the car journey to and from games, talking about enjoying it more than anything else and telling him how proud I am of him for taking part. I would tell him what he did well and celebrate the social benefits of playing sport. I started winning his trust back and his love of the game flourished.
Now as I said at the start there’s no instruction manual for being a parent or how we’re supposed to act while our children play sports, but as we all know all that really matters is they are enjoying what they’re doing. There’s something very strange about being on the side of a football pitch when emotions run high, watching our little one’s play wanting them to do well. We all end up wanting them to excel a little bit too much, which can put unnecessary pressure on them which in turn can have a negative effect on your child’s enjoyment.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that when they get back in the car with a smile on their face and they’ve enjoyed themselves, that’s all that really matters, regardless of score line or their individual performance.
I’m delighted to say that both my children, now 17 and 20, still love the game, but I’m well aware that would probably not be the case if I didn’t change my ways from when they were little.
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