It’s been nearly 25 years since the Varmints took the field against my daughter’s mini-soccer team in the championship game of the season. OK, I’ll be honest; I can’t really recall the name of the opposing team, but I’m fairly sure that we thought of the tousle-haired four-year-old opposition as varmints. Upon reflection, I guess they were more likely named Little Ponies, or Unicorns or something along that line. There were a lot of teams called Little Ponies back then.

The point is that we were the good guys, and they weren’t.

My daughter’s team, the Rockettes, was an amazing little squad. The girls wore neon pink jerseys that made them the envy of other teams and they had a win/loss record that put Manchester United to shame. Sure, they were four years old, but they were amazing.

We desperately wanted our team to win the championship that year, convinced that clutching the small plastic trophy attached to that win was critical to our little athletes’ self-esteem. (We were apparently unconcerned with the self-esteem of the Varmints, but it’s a tough world out there, right?)

A couple of decades later, with over 16 years of subsequent coaching experience under my belt, I feel a little silly about the whole thing. These days I’m helping to coach my granddaughter’s four-year-old team and I’m happy to report that I have a very different attitude.

I also have some advice for parents who are just now embarking on the long road of sports activities into which their children will be drawn (or pushed, depending upon the parents in question.)

For starters, let’s be honest. You may think that your little one is destined for athletic stardom, but the truth is that they’ll probably be pretty average. And it likely won’t be a lack of desire or hard work that prevents them from being the next David Beckham or Mia Hamm. It’s genetics. If your own athletic prowess has never won you any accolades beyond that one time you were picked first for dodge ball, it’s sort of unfair to expect that your offspring will be an athletic wunderkind. Let’s face it. If you’re 5'2" and the tallest member of your spouse’s family is 5'6", your child has an uphill climb to that basketball scholarship, regardless of how many hours you force them to watch the Lakers or make them toss a ball at the Fisher Price hoop in your family room.

Here’s another thing; stop yelling at them. I’m sure you think that you’re cheering them on by shouting phrases like, “COME OOOOOON CRIDENZA! YOU’RE NOT TRYING! YOU HAVE TO SCORE!” The truth is that you aren’t cheering, you’re harassing, and your child has grounds for a restraining order. If your little one turned up at a competitive event of yours—let’s say an office slow-pitch game—and spent the entire time haranguing you with the same instructions, it would: a) be enough to make you stop playing, and/or; b) make you reconsider your position on corporal punishment.

And it’s not just yelling. I’ve watched parents physically drag their little ones off the field for a stern talking-to because they thought that their little darlings weren’t performing well enough. Threats like “If you don’t start trying, we’re going home!” are common.

Again, imagine your child showing up at your place of employment, watching for a while and taking you aside for a chat. “Listen, Dad. You’re just not putting in the effort! A little less coffee break and a little more work and you might actually get that promotion! If you’re not going to try, we should go home and we can forget the whole thing!”

Seriously, folks—it’s estimated that over 70 per cent of children will drop out of sport by the time they are 13 years old. The reasons cited include boredom, friends leaving, and too much pressure, but most often it’s that the game has stopped being fun. Given that sport has all kinds of benefits that include building confidence, fighting childhood obesity, and building friendships and social skills, it might be time to make certain that we keep the fun in the game.

Recognize that children, especially very young children, don’t perceive sports in the same way as adults. For little Cridenza, running around the field and keeping up with the swarm of other players may be all she wants to do. Let her do exactly that.

If you truly want to help, try providing plenty of sincere praise. Try the three-to-one rule. Make three positive comments for every technical or corrective statement you make. And realize that your goals might not be shared by your child. Understand that kicking the ball once in a game in a way that made it “go way up in the sky” might be what your little athlete was going for on that day. Sure, that shot didn’t score, but it was sooo cool!

And most of all, keep your perspective. They are children, after all.

I’ll take you back to that game against the Varmints to illustrate my point.

The score was tied and the Rockettes had the ball. It was a breakaway and the winning goal was almost a certainty when…a helicopter made a long slow pass over the field. Twelve little faces turned skyward and the game was forgotten. The ball rolled on, unattended. I’m ashamed to say that parents and coaches alike were apoplectic. We yelled and pointed and sputtered out directions, but at that moment it was the kids who knew what was important.

I reminded my daughter about that helicopter a few weeks ago when a rainbow stopped the action at little Randi’s Saturday afternoon soccer game. My daughter laughed and said she remembered the day and how upset everyone got at the kids. Curiously, neither of us could remember who won that game.

I hope, 25 years from now, that my granddaughter remembers that rainbow and the fact that her mom hugged her and shared a magical moment in the middle of a soccer game.

It was a really neat rainbow, after all.

Tim Collins is a writer and freelance journalist living and working in Victoria.