Children have 5 areas of attention:
👉 Focused – when your child is focused on visual or auditory information.
👉Shifting – when your child begins one task and stops to shift their focus to another.
👉 Sustained – when your child can focus on a task for a continuous stretch of time.
👉 Selective – when your child focuses on one specific task while filtering out distractions around them.
👉 Divided – when your child can multitask, focusing only a part of their attention on multiple tasks at the same time.

As a parent, I think the two that I get the most frustrated at my own kids for, are shifting and selective attention! How can they be so focused on a task that they do not even register my voice?

As a gymnastics coach, the most important one we’re looking for is sustained attention.

Our sport is not just to improve children’s physical acumen, but to stretch their cognitive abilities too. We expect kids to come to an area, stay still for 3 minutes while their coach uses auditory and visual information to explain the 6 activities that they will be doing for the next 10 minutes, retain that information, and then jump up to implement the instructions. You know what’s awesome? We see kids as young as 2 years old being able to do exactly that, when they get to school they’re going to be rock stars!

As parents, we all want to give our kids the best opportunity to succeed. As a result, many parents end up trying to coach their children from the sidelines. If their attention is on you in the foyer then it cannot be on the activity ahead of them or the coaching points that the coach is trying to communicate. We call their name to attract their attention, we point out what they have forgotten or give them our own coaching tip, or say listen to your coach.

These are all scenarios that may be familiar to you as a sports parent. You may see yourself in the description above or maybe you recognise another parent you know. Now, while you may think you are helping your child, the reality is you are hurting their development. Young children hear their parents’ voice from the seats and lose focus on what they were doing. On top of that, many times, things that parents are calling to their kids are in direct contrast with the instructions they have been given by their coach. If a 5 or 6-year-old kid is getting different messages from their coach and their parent, imagine how difficult, confusing and stressful that’s going to be on your child. Chances are they want to please both you as their parent and also their coach. Most of us do not perform as well under stress, as we do when we are relaxed and confident. A child who is always being told what to do by a parent or a coach will never develop the skills they need to grow.

As a parent, remember that it’s okay if your child can’t remember what the next station is in the circuit when they get there, we want to see their brains ticking over, thinking back through their memory and grabbing a visual cue that will provide that pop in their brain. Or if they really can’t remember, we want them to ask their classmate what to do. This helps build their confidence in admitting when they don’t know and make a friend. If you just yell out the answer they will never get there on their own.

“We are all imperfect and will fail on occasion, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all” – Legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden         

Here are a couple of suggestions we can offer passionate parents who want to help their child:

  • In place of calling out ‘well done’ or ‘cheers’, give them a thumbs-up or clap when they do something great. You know they’ll look at you when they do something they’re proud of, so why not offer a visual response instead.
  • When you feel your child is in need of your instructions from the seats, consider that your sideline coaching robs them of a learning opportunity… Just try to chill and enjoy watching their brain stretch.

Enjoy the sports journey. Your child’s sporting days will be over before you know it! Ask them at the end of class, did you have fun? Did you work hard? Did you listen to your coach? Tell them, I just love watching you do gymnastics!

Here is a great visual representation of the 10 tips for sports parents (written by Sarah McQuade).

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