I have decided to look at this area of children’s sport as it comes hand in hand with academy life (football at least) but does not seem to be treated with enough care and attention by the clubs that implement the procedure.
The funny thing is, it’s taken me about 8 months to feel like it’s a topic I want to deal with due to the fact that, having gone through it from the point of view of a parent, it was so emotional to go through once I wasn’t sure I wanted to re-visit it again! However I really believe that if I can help just one person get through it a little easier and shed a little light onto a rather dark and somewhat taboo subject, I will feel glad.
The cut throat nature of high level sport is very obvious, with athletes and sports people being at the height of their sport one minute and then seemingly disappearing the next. The unnerving thing is that this ‘cut throat’ approach is not only used towards adults but children too, some as young as 9 years old. My experience of this relates souly to football but I’m sure similar situations occur across other sports too. Maybe to a slightly lesser extent but still enough to leave children emotionally scarred and needing a lot of care and attention to ensure they come out the other side as well-rounded, balanced individuals who still want to take part in sport.
Depending on how the club has dealt with the child will greatly influence the effect the ‘release’ has on the child. In an ideal world the club would have had a good channel of communication with the child and family therefore the news that they are being released should not come as a complete surprise. However if this is not the case then the event will come as a shock to all involved and the child will feel a great deal of initial anger and sadness.
How to help you child understand and deal with their feelings…
It will depend on each individual child as to how often they will experience feelings of sadness, anger etc. so unfortunately there is no one set solution that will work for every child. Not what you want to hear I’m sure! However, a common time that most children will feel this way is at bedtime. This is when children are beginning to unwind and are left alone with time to think about things. The best thing to do as a parent is to let them talk and listen to them. Reassure them that it’s OK to feel angry and upset and that you are there for them. Try to focus them on the future and the positive things in their life. Distraction is key and helping them, by guiding their thoughts on to the good and positive things they have in their life to look forward to, will help ease the immediate negative emotions they are feeling.
It is important that you help the child to understand and identify what makes them happy so that they can do these things when they are feeling sad or low. This can literally be anything! Whatever that individual child feels; from reading or listening to music, to going for a run or drawing. This activity acts as a distraction to stop them dwelling on their sadness or anger over their release. If there’s one of those activities that you can do together that is even better as being with someone not only opens up the channels of communication, but shows that that person supports the child and is there for them. Obviously this is age dependent: younger children might need more help from parents than older children, but this is not to say that older children should be expected to do this independently all the time.
Giving the child lots of other activities to focus on is also important and it would be good to include involvement in other sports. Being in an academy can prevent children from having the time to take part in any other sport due to the commitment it requires. Allowing them to try other sports will help them to socialise with their peers as well as giving them the opportunity to do well at sport again. This will subsequently increase their levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. It will also help fill the time that used to be filled with training.
In my past experience with this, keeping your child distracted and busy are the key objectives initially, as is continually reassuring them that you love them and how great they are at different things. It’s useful to note that when there is unstructured time that is when the child will do a lot of reflecting about what’s happened. A good thing to do here would be to encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling and their thoughts.
It is important to remember that time really is an amazing healer. Every child will differ in the amount of time it takes for them to move forward but they will, all you can do as a parent is to be there for them and support them in the best way you can.
There are so many areas to consider after a child has been released that I can’t do it all in one post! The other areas I will be covering at a later date will include; The effect it has on parents; how long until your child ‘feels better’; when will your child want to play football again? As well as different approaches clubs should use.
Until next time…