Why Team Sports Are A Gift To Your Kids

Parenting is a tough gig. It is an overwhelming and thankless task trying to educate our children to prepare them for life. We want them to be kind, but not weak. We want them to be resilient but also not experience too much adversity. We want them to grow and develop as people, constantly seeking to better themselves so they can reach their true potential and excel in whatever field it is they choose to pursue.

In short, we want them to be fair-minded, empathetic team players who can work towards common goals.

No wonder we feel so much pressure as parents. This is a tall order for anyone!

By enrolling your child in team sports, you give them the opportunity to learn these and many more valuable life lessons, at the same time allowing them to share the love of a game or sport with other like-minded individuals.

I am 40 now. I have played field hockey since I was ten years old. You could say I’m a hockey tragic.

Hockey is the sport of my life and I am so grateful to my parents for giving me the gift of the game at an early age. It continues to be how I choose to spend my downtime, and there are very few things I love more than playing and watching my sport.

I have just returned from playing at the Australian Women’s Masters Hockey Nationals at the Gold Coast, where I have had two of the most exhilarating, exhausting, uplifting and challenging weeks of my life. Missing selection for my home state, I was fortunate enough to be invited to play for the ACT (Australian Capital Territory, more colloquially known in the hockey circle as Australian Combined Teams). Even though I knew no-one in the team, I was thrilled at the prospect of playing in a National event so close to home at the Gold Coast.

As the Championships grew closer, I began to get nervous. I would be staying for two weeks with people I had never met before, playing at an extremely high level, away from Lis and the kids and literally living with strangers for the whole time. I am a teacher and this would comprise my entire school holidays. Was this the right decision?

What I experienced has changed me forever. That’s a huge call, and I don’t say it lightly. I have spent two weeks with a group of strangers who are literally now ‘my people’. United by our love of the game, and the challenge that lay before us in representing the ACT against the other states, we bonded very quickly. Our two weeks together comprised strict routines, training schedules, daily team walks, game strategizing, ocean recovery sessions, shared meals, team meetings and occasional free time where we hit the local shopping centres or beach.

Our coach Jess Bingley (‘Bingers’ to us), who is the Australian Women’s Masters 40-45 year old coach, set the bar high for us and I would be lying if I said it was anything other than completely overwhelming.

By the second evening, I thought I was in over my head and truly wondered if I had it in me to continue. I stole away by myself for a quiet sob and then pulled myself together. No way was I letting anyone see me like this, and I knew I just had to rise to the challenge. Training was intense, and the style of game Bingers wanted played was new to me. I was an old dog unsure if I was capable of learning such new tricks.

I soon came to realise that I wasn’t the only old dog who was struggling.

This reassured me, making me realise that other girls in the team felt just as ‘out of their depth’ as I did. There were seven newbies to the Nationals experience in our ACT team, known affectionately as the ‘Virgins’. Our initiation involved us being given L plates, plastic dummies and hard hats with our name on them to wear around our necks at all times whilst on tour, other than when on the playing field. Out to dinner, to the beach, to the shops – these ‘gifts’ were to accompany us everywhere.

We quickly came to appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses both on and off the field. As each game came and went, we grew closer as a team and forged new alliances. The Team Leaders, all Australian players, Bek, Reita and BC mentored and guided us. The more experienced players looked after the newbies, and we, as the newbies, looked after each other. We learned quickly not to step out of line, we learned to check in with one another, we learned to provide and accept extra support and understanding when it was needed. We laughed. We cried. We laughed some more.

Win, lose or draw, the strength of the team came from within.

We didn’t have an overly successful carnival.

In fact, we didn’t win at all.

Yet to me this was the most successful sporting trip I have ever experienced.

The ACT teams have a tradition of forming a ‘Tunnel of Love’ after each of the six teams plays, and singing and clapping and cheering the team through regardless of the final score. The atmosphere was electric and I have truly never experienced anything like it. My kids thought it was amazing and were mesmerised.

Winning would have been wonderful too, but it was definitely the icing on the cake rather than the essential ingredient. Our girls put their bodies on the lines, day in and day out. Even when a much stronger QLD team was overrunning us, we never gave up, to the extent that we had Queenslanders complementing us on our resilience and ‘never say die’ attitude. Most of our games were narrow losses, in fact we held Victoria, who ended up in the Grand Final, to nil all until the final quarter when fatigue set in and we went down 2 nil.

I feel I have learned more in the past two weeks, both about myself and about who I want to be, than I have in a long time. While exhausted physically and emotionally, I also feel rejuvenated and inspired. Seeing 65-year-old women out on the field supporting each other and continuing to play the sport they love is, in itself, gold medal worthy.

At times as a parent, I get frustrated with the fact that the world for us seems to stop during hockey season. It is time consuming and exhausting getting the six out of seven of us to our trainings, games and our respective representative events. I know people question our sanity at being so heavily involved, and yet I know that so many families are exactly the same. Team sports equip our kids with so many essential, valuable life skills. They introduce us to our ‘people’ and create common goals and the desire to strive towards these. They set down pathways to achieve and gain personal fulfilment. They foster resilience and a ‘never say die’ attitude.

Please be reassured, for your kids’ sake as well as your own, your effort is so very worth it.

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