There are many things that will separate the upbringing we give our children from the upbringing we got at the hands of our parents.
It goes without saying that we are not are parents, nor is the world that our kids grow up in the same as the world that we knew as children. There are so many ways in which our kids have more outlets to express themselves than we did. Those of us with daughters likely appreciate that they have more opportunities to explore their hobbies and interests in ways that are more fluid than our peers did when we were young.
Girls can be girly girls who love Disney princesses and pink things, but they can just as easily be comic book geeks, scifi nerds, punks or sports freaks without the impingement of solid gender roles placed upon them in previous generations. In this less normative social and cultural background, and as we inch closer and closer to gender equality, those of us who have athletically inclined daughters want to do everything they can to encourage them to hone and nurture their gift.
Whether they have their eyes on gymnastic success, football fame or martial arts mastery, the devoted Dad will see their duties going way beyond making sure that they get up a little earlier to drop them off for practice before school. If you have a sneaking suspicion that you might be raising the next Jessica Ennis or Jane Couch, there are lots of effective ways in which the diligent Dad can nurture his little lady’s talent and passion…
Help them find the right role models
We live in an age where our daughters are growing up with far more accessible models of female empowerment than their mothers likely had. In the realms of fiction they have Katniss Everdeen, Wonder Woman and even Dora The Explorer to show them that women and girls have agency and capability and don’t need a man to come and rescue them. Of course, they don’t need to reach into the realm of fiction to find remarkable women who they can use as role models. There are so many extraordinary women in the world of sport that even the briefest of web searches will help you find them. The digital age allows you and your daughter so many opportunities to research some of the iconic sports women our country has produced, learning from not only their ethos but their technique using the infinite learning resource that is YouTube.
Of course, as important as role models are, we also owe it to our children to remind them how counterproductive it can be to compare themselves to others, be they their role models or other girls within their team or social group. This brings us to…
Help them set realistic goals for themselves
You likely already know the power of goal setting. It’s likely led you to great success in your career and your extracurricular activities. If your daughter demonstrates a talent for a particular sport, and shows aptitude beyond that of her peers, she can risk resting on her laurels if not given the right combination of challenge and encouragement. Help her to set goals that are SMART (which is to say Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound). As much as we want to tell our kids that they can do anything, this is rarely helpful for them in real terms. As the responsible adult in the equation you likely know what’s realistic better than they do. Encourage them to push themselves to keep on beating their personal best and help them arrive at specific goals to achieve within a reasonable time frame.
And of course if you want to put a special reward in it for them in the form of a present or meal out at their favourite eaterie, thereby making you the best Dad ever, who am I to stop you?
Help to guide them out of their comfort zone
It’s okay to admit it, we get a certain satisfaction from knowing our kid is the biggest fish in a small pond. Unless they’re encouraged to grow outside of their comfort zones, however, they can never hope to live up to their full potential. Their growth will be stunted by a lack of challenge, which is why it’s important to guide them outside of their comfort zones by encouraging them to compete in regional or even national events- you can find more information here. With your support and guidance, they will continue to grow in their talents and confidence far more than if they remain the best in their school or even their town.
Focus on enjoyment, rather than winning
It really is taking part that counts, and no that’s not just something that losers say. The odds of your child enjoying an unbroken winning streak are spectacularly unlikely no matter how good they are. Of course there’s a colossal surge of emotion and adrenaline that comes with winning as well as a sense of personal validation, but defeats offer far more opportunities to learn and grow than victories. Encourage your daughter to participate in sports for the love of the sport rather than the anticipation of victory and she’ll grow up with a healthy respect for the game and all who participate in it.
Of course, we can expect out daughters to feel disappointed and rejected when victory eludes them, but so long as they know that they have your unceasing love and support whether they win or lose they’ll be that much more likely to dust themselves up and get back on the horse knowing that they have you in their corner.
Remember your role
Different children have different needs, and while we can all be guilty of settling into “Competitive Dad Mode” it’s important to be there for your daughter in whatever capacity she needs. She may need you to be her coach, shouting prompts and advice from the sidelines, or she may just need you to be close at hand for a cuddle. Let her tell you what she needs rather than telling her.