One of my favourite sports stories comes from the Special Olympics. Nine children, all mentally or physically challenged, were standing on the start line of the one hundred metres race. The athletes all have a helper in their lane at the finish line who’s job it is to yell words of encouragement to the runners and make them feel special about competing and all the kids were excited and ready to go.

The starter fired the gun and almost as soon as the race started, a young boy tripped, fell over and sat on the track starting to cry. The eight other runners saw the boy fall and they all slowed down and looked behind them. They stopped and went back to where the boy was lying. A girl with Down syndrome sat down next to him, hugged him, and asked, “Are you feeling better now?” The boy then picked himself up and all nine of them held hands and ran to the finish line, at which point the whole crowd stood up and applauded them home.

I love that story so much as it encompasses so many aspects of why we should be actively encouraging our children to compete in sports. From the fact that the kids were there to have fun and compete, to the great values and compassion they showed when the young boy fell, it shows us yet again how sports is such a fantastic way to teach life lessons if done correctly.

If you ask people why kids take part in competitive sports, a lot of people would invariably say it’s to win, to stand on the podium or to come home with a nice prize, but the facts prove time and time again that this just isn’t the case.

The reason that the majority of kids go racing or play any sport for that matter is primarily for the social aspect. Through many studies, the actual thought of winning comes surprisingly low on their list of priorities. Much higher is being around their friends, socialising and having fun; the goal of winning is often very much a parent thing.

As a sports parent, the choices we make in how we interact in the lead up to; and at the event, can either make youth sports a fun, exciting and pleasant experience for our children or it can make it into almost a job and a chore for the kids, and as any parent knows – kids don’t want to do jobs or chores for very long.

The statistics from all over the world tell us that that by age thirteen, 75% of children will have totally given up youth sports. This should be in itself enough of a wake up call to parents to realise that a large proportion of those kids have chosen to walk away from sport because it simply isn’t fun for them anymore.

No matter how many youth races your child wins, the chances of them riding the Tour de France or picking up an Olympic gold medal are very small indeed; but the chances of them becoming a lifelong lover of cycling and the social, health and general wellbeing that this can bring them over their entire lifetime is very high; providing we can keep the love of riding the bike in them.

We do that by making sure that our first priority as parents is that at races or coaching sessions we need to be asking ourselves; are the kids smiling, making friends and having a good time. If the answer is yes and your focus is first and foremost on those things then the children will associate riding the bike with fun and enjoyment rather than a day at the office.

Trust me when I tell you that any child who has the right character and physical ability will get noticed through their results and be given opportunity to move up through the cycling ranks as they get older, but to do this they need to be still riding the bike into their teen years.

The dedication and sacrifice needed to succeed at cycling at the higher levels are immense, but if you ask any top professional what they most enjoy about their job and what keeps them going through the often very tough times, they will tell you that they simply love to ride the bike above everything else.

Work with your children on good character, integrity and sportsmanship and the rest will fall into place. Sport has the ability to teach our children some of the greatest lessons to take through life with them, such as: to work hard, to be determined and focused, to play fairly, to accept defeat graciously, to be humble in victory and above all to never cheat and break the rules.

This is the true meaning of sport. We’ve got a responsibility to make sure our children realise that the true long term goal of sport isn’t to become a millionaire or become a modern day celebrity, but instead to become a person of great values and actions.

A favourite quote of mine is by Frederick Douglass who said “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” We have a great privilege through sport to be able to teach these valuable life lessons in a fun environment and set the kids on the right path for the rest of their lives. What an opportunity.

David Lea.