So your child wants to be an athlete? Before you jump on the team bus, keep these things in mind.

Go for paper, not gold

First off, understand that not every child is a future Olympian. In fact, most will never compete at the collegiate level. Do not sacrifice academics for athletics. Sports supplement an education in that they add variety and physical activity to a student's day. Athletic participation promotes healthy habits and can boost a child's self-esteem. However, in the long run, solid academic performance will be the greater achievement.

Keep order on the court

Remember that the coach knows more about coaching than you do. You, however, know your child better. It is a good idea to develop a good relationship with the person who will be teaching your child. The coach is not the enemy! You may have occasion to lend insight regarding motivation that works or does not work with your child, but that does not mean that it's your place to countermand the coach's decisions. If you have a positive relationship with the coach, he will be more inclined to listen to your input.

Take one for the team

There is great value in teamwork. Athletes learn many life lessons and coping skills through team sports. On the other hand, there is much to be said for individual achievement. Sports such as wrestling, track, and tennis allow your athlete to perform alone. Learning to be accountable for his successes and failures will help him deal with individual challenges later in life.

Eat like an athlete

Nutrition is vital for any active child, but specific needs vary greatly depending upon the athlete. I had three runners. One required a lighter diet that was easy on the stomach on race days. Another ran long-distance and needed far more calories to keep him going. The third had enough reserves that he could get away with a lighter diet during competition but preferred heavier meals. All of them needed hydration. Athletes need a lot of fluids.

Brush up on first-aid

Pain can be scary for a young athlete, but isn't always a reason to panic. Most often, pain is a sign that body parts are being challenged and strengthened. Carry your own athletic tape, ice packs and pain relievers to help your child deal with the minor aches associated with sports activity. On the other hand, sometimes pain is an indication of a serious sports injury. Consult your family physician to help you determine when to seek special medical care.

Give a shoulder to cry on

Even the best athletes have moments of despair. Some days will make your child doubt his abilities. When your child comes home from practice and wants to quit, it's your job to be supportive and understanding. Feed his confidence and nurture his desire to excel. Remind him that greatness takes time. Never berate your child for poor performance. No trophy is worth ruining your relationship over.

Remember, it should be fun

Above all, don't be afraid to let your child change course. If your athlete wants to explore other sports such as soccer or cross country, let him give it a try. As a parent, you are equipped to help your child make the best choice. Listen to your heart and listen to your child, then support him in his efforts. Remember, your child is interested in sports so that he can improve himself and have a good time, not so that his parents can relive their own glory days.

Get out your pom-poms

Finally, your athlete needs to know you believe he can be a future Olympian! Be your child's biggest fan. When he fails, praise him for being gracious in defeat. When he wins, celebrate. When he does his best, no matter how he stacks up against others, rejoice in his growth. Do this, and your child will have a victory that will last a lifetime.

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