“Isn’t this terrific?” I said to my daughter-in-law recently while watching my granddaughter’s soccer game. It’s amazing how much more fun and relaxing it is to watch one’s grandkids play sports, versus the gut-wrenching anxiety that often came when my own children were in the thick of action. And because there’s less anxiety, I believe I’m able to be more supportive of my grandchildren (and by extension, their parents) as they do their thing in sports arenas.
The good part about being a grandparent is that one can sit back and admiringly watch grandkids play without worrying about whether they are winning or losing. We find it easier to say, “Did you have fun?” rather than “Did you win?” Just watching them be who they are regardless of how well they perform is enough to evoke joy in the hearts of most elders. People I know who have grandchildren in sports seem to be more aware that our primary function is to be “under-standing.” That is, to stand under them so if they falter we can soften the fall.
Bearing in mind the potential of grandparents to positively influence the world of youth sports, I’ve come up with what I call ‘Golden Rules for Golden Oldies’. These rules are guidelines for grand-parents (or senior citizens playing out that role) to improve the sports experi-ences of grandchildren and generations to come.
Transform into a senior ambassador for good sports. Youth in sports need all the wisdom and perspective they can get. Many seniors have learned, through a lifetime of experience, the best way to support their grandkids is in the living room, family setting, or after a sports outing. They know they need to be there for them. They have matured to the point where they have developed perspective. They have learnt when to take their grandchildren out of harm’s way, and when to allow them to chart their own course to derive the satisfaction of solving their own problems. I recommend that seniors become ambassadors for good sports. Within them they have the wisdom, patience, experience, and time to make a significant difference to the sports experiences of young children.
Help envision a better sports future. Through our awareness that we are not going to be around for much longer, many of us grandparents start to appreciate what’s really important in life. Why not use this wisdom to make the world of sports a better place for young ones? We know that sports can inspire, educate, and unify. We are aware that in most cases, sport is underutilised as a quality of life-improving medium for grandkids and their families. Sport can empower the main actors in youth sports: kids, parents, coaches, and spectators. But to realise this empowerment goal, it is necessary for sports parents, with our counsel and support, to evaluate current and future sports trends and practices. Parents need help to eliminate toxic influences that threaten the sports experiences of their children.
Resist offering unsolicited advice. It is essential for seniors who wish to enhance the sport experiences of youth to resist offering unsolicited advice. It is always difficult for us to show restraint when we think we know what’s best for others. However, as senior ambassadors for healthy sports, we can be most effective when we direct the discussion of parents and their kids to what they regard as the best solutions to the problems confronting them.
Effective senior ambassadors of sports are those who have learnt to draw the best solutions from all parties involved. We do that by listening, one of the most underdeveloped skills cutting across all generations. But for seniors who understand that prolonged experience has given them better insights into what’s going on in the world, it can be especially difficult to resist the temptation to hold forth delivering long monologues to young people. To be effective we must learn to listen keenly, interpret what we hear, and then raise questions that will provoke intelligent answers.
Teach them to play for enjoyment. Grandparents are best qualified to teach children that what matters is not winning or losing, but how one plays the game. It’s important we don’t merely parrot this cliché, practised more in the breach than observance, but demonstrate commitment to fair, participatory competition by paying equal attention to skilled and unskilled children, allowing all children to participate fully regardless of outcome, and by caring more about process rather than results. This way, children can comprehend what they seem to intuit: that competition can be a way to getting to know people, to be challenged, and to have fun in close and caring environments — to seek together.
In sum, while sitting in the bleachers and cheering for our grandchildren is an admirable goal in itself, we Golden Oldies have great potential to do good. If we make the effort to equip ourselves with the sensitivity and skills that allow us to work effectively with our children and grandchildren in promoting and achieving a vision of good sport, we can leave behind a legacy that will benefit all.
(Dr. George A. Selleck is a San Francisco-based advisor to EduSports, Bangalore)