How to help if your child dreads sports day

Some children look forward to sports day, while others dread it for months. If your child doesn’t like sports day read on as we discuss how you can help them.

Why do some children dread sports day?

If your child doesn’t like sports day they’re not alone. There are many reasons why children worry about sports day, and it can be a combination of several reasons, including:

  • Lack of interest. Not all children enjoy sports or physical activities. Some children prefer reading, arts, or other activities.
  • Pressure to perform. Sports day often involves competitions and races which creates pressure to perform well. Many children fear failure or judgement from peers or teachers.
  • Physical limitations. Health conditions or physical limitations can make it challenging to engage in certain sports. A child might feel discouraged or left out if they cannot participate fully or perform at the same level as their peers.
  • Fatigue or discomfort. The physical exertion of sports day can be tiring for some children. If the event is held in extreme weather conditions or there aren’t adequate breaks and opportunities to drink it can contribute to a negative experience.
  • Negative past experiences. If a child has had negative experiences related to sports, such as being teased, bullied, or embarrassed during previous sports days, they may understandably develop a dislike towards it.
  • Lack of skill development. Children who struggle with sports or have not had opportunities to develop their skills may feel inadequate when compared to their peers. This can lead to feelings of frustration, embarrassment, or disinterest.

How can you help your child?

If you can find out from your child the reasons they dislike sports day you can start to find ways to support them. 

Lack of interest

If your child isn’t interested in sports day, it might be because they cannot see the point of it. You could discuss the benefits of staying active and the positive effects it can have on their physical and mental health.

Maybe your child hasn’t yet found a sport they enjoy because schools usually introduce children to just a few sports. There are so many different sports that there’s usually something a child will enjoy.  Perhaps your child could try a few taster sessions at local clubs? If they find a sport they like this will help them develop a positive attitude towards sports day, even if the sport they enjoy isn’t included.

Pressure to perform

Is your child worried about coming last in a race, or not living up to high expectations? These worries can manifest in many ways. Your child may be irritable, have difficulty sleeping or just seem restless in themselves.

It is important to focus on personal progress and effort rather than results. You could help your child to understand that feeling nervous is normal, and even sports stars feel anxious before an event. This post from Very Well Family has some excellent advice about how to manage performance anxiety.

Physical limitations

Talk to your child’s teacher if your child has physical limitations that are preventing them from enjoying sports day and getting the most from it.

The teacher could adapt activities and promote cooperative activities where teamwork and collaboration are emphasized over individual performance. They could empower your child by asking them to help plan sports day by giving their own ideas for activities. Planning sports day could be a whole class activity, so everybody is involved.

Fatigue or discomfort

Talk to your child’s teacher about how they find sports day uncomfortable. The teacher could ensure there are plenty of breaks and that children have enough time and opportunities to eat and drink. Activities that require less exertion could be sandwiched between activities of higher intensity.

It is advisable to consult your child’s doctor if fatigue and discomfort are stopping them from enjoying normal activities.

Negative past experiences

Competitive sports days have advantages. Some people argue competition helps children overcome a fear of failure and build resilience. In life, there are times when we win and times when we lose, so we all need to learn strategies to manage.

However, when a child continually comes last on sports day, or they are bullied and teased it has a damaging effect. Sports psychologist, Amanda Hills says, “Any sports day needs to be fun…Because children will remember any positive or negative feelings to do with sport…it could put them off doing sport until their 20s.”

Schools have different ideas about the value of competitive sports, but they have a duty of care to ensure your child is safe and feels valued.

Encourage your child to be open and honest about their feelings. Consider talking to your child’s teacher with your child. There are plenty of steps teachers can take to foster team spirit and empathy amongst the children in their class. If your child is being bullied, the school has a legal duty to take measures to stop it.

Lack of skill development

Fun, enjoyment, and plenty of practice are the keys to sports skill development. Ask your child’s teacher what your child particularly struggles with and practice at home. Have a look at these ideas of how to improve children’s hand eye coordination.

Everyday activities like garden games, taking a frisbee to the park, and playing on equipment in the park all help children to develop strength and hand eye coordination. Does your child enjoy playing or watching football? If so, have a look at our football activities for all the family.

You could find out if your child’s school runs intervention programs to support children with fine and gross motor skills, and enroll your child in an afterschool clubs that involves physical activity.

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