Active parents cut furrow for sporty children

Catherine Shanahan says an interest in sport needs to be fostered at home

David Meyler with his mum Stella and sister Sarah, both swimmers, and dad John who played hurling for Cork and continues to coach

MENTOR or tormentor, motivator or killjoy, it can be tricky figuring how best to whet our child’s appetite for sport. Mothers play a key role, recent research says. A report commissioned by Swim Ireland found children whose mothers were active in sport and exercise were more likely to become regular swimmers themselves.

While most parents recognise sport’s many virtues — sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, commitment and fair play — some are slow to capitalise on the benefits for the sake of the next generation.

Not so the Meyler family where Mum, competitive swimmer Stella Bowles, passed down her passion for swimming to kids Sarah and David, and where Dad, John Meyler, nurtured in his son a love of playing ball.

“David swam until he was eight and then announced to his granddad that he was ‘retiring’. He was playing hurling, football and soccer after school and something had to give,” says John.

David made the right choice. After playing with a couple of Irish clubs, including Cork City, Roy Keane came calling, and David began a career in the Premiership with Sunderland in 2008. Last year, he was called up to the Republic of Ireland senior squad. He’s currently with Hull City.

David didn’t lick his love of sport off the stones. His dad, a keen footballer and hurler, played senior hurling with Wexford and Cork and has managed county teams since, currently he is working with Carlow. His father was a “fierce sporting man” he says and his mother was also influential. “I’d always have been pushed, my mother was a Kilkenny woman.”

John subscribed to the same philosophy with his own kids. “I dragged them everywhere. I was finishing up my own playing career and starting to coach and manage, so I’d throw the kids into the car.

“Even on the days they mightn’t want to come, I’d drag them anyway. It’s all about getting them out of the house. You’re going to have a few tantrums for the first 15 minutes, but my advice is — don’t tolerate any resistance.”

When it comes to children’s individual performance he says: “I wouldn’t say push them. Just try and push the right buttons.”

Father-of-six Eamonn Ryan, manager of the Cork Ladies senior football team, says his advice to parents is to get their children interested in something — sport or otherwise.

“Sport, music, ballet, whatever it is, it’s utterly essential for kids growing up nowadays. No argument. There has to be some balance in their lives.

“Some of the thinking is that other activities interfere with study. But without something to hold their interest, they will fill the void with socialising and all the pitfalls that go with it: smoking, drinking, you name it. We see it all the time,” Eamonn says.

Besides, kids can channel a lot of the pressures of growing up in the 21st century into sport, Eamonn believes.

“I think kids nowadays are under ferocious pressure, especially girls, to ape the celebrity culture and to look a certain way and have a certain bodyshape. Even though parents seem materially better off, it’s harder to raise children because of all the pressure they are under. Parents really need to steer kids into extra-curricular activities, otherwise, they are going to be steered by their peers,” Eamonn says.

Dr Mark Campbell, lecturer in sports science and physical education at the University of Limerick, says parents should be aware that pre-adolescent children are not yet influenced by their peers and are very influenced by what their parents say and do.

“Kids participate in sport because they want to learn new skills, and for the fun of it and for affiliation with a team. Parents should foster these notions, and make it fun, and encourage the notion of mastering a skill, and not make it an ego thing.

“Parents can get competitive too soon or get kids to specialise too soon, when they should be sampling many different skills.”

Famous child/parent sporting relationships

Boxer Katie Taylor, coached by dad, Peter.

Gaelic football player Dermot Earley, inspired by late father, Dermot, an Irish army officer and GAA sportsman.

Tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, coached by dad, Richard.

Tennis player Andy Murray, coached by mum Judy.

Basketball ace Michael Jordan, inspired by late father, James, who was a lifelong baseball fan.



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