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Learning How To Follow The Rules

This is the last post in this month's series about sporting skills, and today we're focusing on following the rules.

This is a really difficult concept to teach children. On the one hand, it's really important that children develop an understanding of the rules about t any particular game, and that they follow the rules so the play remains structured and fair. On the other hand, being overly dogmatic about adherence to the rules can suck the fun out of games, making children reluctant to join in.

So how can you teach children what the rules are, and how to follow them, without turning playtime into a chore.

1. Keep It Simple

Adjust the rules of the game according to the age and developmental stage of your child. You shouldn't expect a four year old to have a good working knowledge of the off-side rule, but you can expect them to use their feet not their hands, and to play the ball not the person. Pick the essential rules from the game and teach those first. Then as your child gets older and more experienced you can gradually increase their understanding.

2. Your Child The Referee

It can be hard for children to remember the rules while trying to play to the best of their ability. Help them to focus on the rules alone by making them teh referee / umpire / judge. This works especially well if the players are Mum and Dad rather than a sibling, as natural sibling rivalry can cloud a young ref's judgement leading to arguments. Have your mini ref remember two or three important rules, arm them with the whistle and get playing. You may want to break the rules deliberately a few times to give them something to do. This is also a great way for children to experience a little power over the parents in a fun reversal of normal roles.

3. Teach Sportsmanship Too

Learning good sportsmanship is just as important as learning the rules. Nobody likes a sore loser or a boasting winner, so being a good sportsman is just as important as developing other sporting talents.

One way to help children understand the difference between good and bad sporting behaviour is when the adults in their life act as good role models or play act the 'wrong' way. For example, two adults could challenge each other to a race, then when the loser throws an epic tantrum about the race not being fair or the track / shoes / weather being wrong, the children witnessing this fall out will get a good giggle, and a demonstration of how not to behave.

4. Child-Led Rules

Ask your child to invent a simple game, with a set of rules designed by them. It can be as simple as an obstacle course over the climbing frame, so long as the game has rules. This gives them the opportunity to see the importance of rules and how following them is what makes a game fun and challenging.

Encouragement Over Criticism

It's important that children are encouraged more than criticised in order to keep them motivated and engaged. This can be difficult to achieve when you are on the watch for rule infringements, so pay equal attention to all the things your child does well, especially when they demonstrate good sporting conduct.

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