Parents need to choose wisely and ask questions about issues such as vetting
Picking sports clubs for children should involve as much care as picking schools, writes Swim Ireland's Kate Hills
Parents should choose their children's sports clubs as carefully as their schools. They look at the school's reputation, the teachers, extra-curricular activities as well as what subjects their child might do. Swim Ireland, the national governing body for aquatics, suggests they should do the same checks when choosing a sports club for their child; it should be fun and enjoyable even when your child is working hard to achieve their goals and develop their skills. So, what should you look for when choosing a sports club?
Is the club a safe and fun environment? Are the people working in the club qualified, trained and vetted for their roles? Is the club a well-run club with measures to safeguard both young people and adults? Is there open communication, promoting good relationships with young people?
We want parents to ask the right questions so they know and trust the club.
You are handing the responsibility for your child to the people running the club. Asking questions is not being a nuisance, it is being responsible.
Although people in clubs are mainly volunteers, often parents themselves, they are still required to meet safeguarding training and vetting requirements.
Coaches are required to hold a qualification and these vary in different sports. At Swim Ireland, we have different levels of qualification across the four aquatic disciplines - swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and water polo.
You need to ask about the adults working with your children and check they meet the requirements of the national governing body. Swim Ireland has some roles that require further training. For example, our club children's officers need to attend extra courses and seminars to keep up to date with best practices.
Parents should find out about how the club is run, making sure the club provides a safe, happy and child-centred environment.
Our codes of conduct set a level of behaviour for everyone in a club, including parents, coaches, and committee members, allowing young people to enjoy their sport knowing the people involved meet the expected standards.
You should also check out club documents and structures. Swim Ireland has a competitive pathway so young people know how they can improve and progress. There are rules governing supervision of sessions, acceptable physical contact between coaches and athletes and protocols for teams or squads travelling away to camps and competitions.
You should go to a training session, like going to an open day in a school to see the club in action. Check out the club noticeboard and social media pages to see how it communicates with members.
As your child becomes more involved, their group of friends grow. This encourages them to stay involved in sport and helps them to develop socially.
As a role model, you are crucial for your child's continued enjoyment in sport. You should help out in the club where needed, supervise sessions, join the committee or help at competitions. Meeting other parents is also a social opportunity for you as well. Communication is key between parents, their child and the coach. Swim Ireland helps parents and coaches with this through coach education and our parent and club training programmes.
If you understand the sport, it helps conversations between you, your child and the coach. You can help your child concentrate on their behaviour, attitude and effort, and the coach can help with their technical skills and performance. A good tip for parents after a competition is to let your child talk to their coach and wait until your child is ready to talk about their performance with you - a two-way conversation asking your child for their views is much more helpful than you telling them what they did wrong.
Communication needs to be more than just between a parent, coach and athlete. Swim Ireland believes in young people voicing their views, so we work with our Club Children's Officers to gather young people's opinions about their club and their sport. How young people feel and what they want from their sport help create a safe and fun environment.
Sport gives youngsters a chance to have fun, develop skills, achieve goals and make friends. In society, it can be a powerful tool to aid integration and social inclusion.
Participation in sport should be a conscious choice for young people. However, this often influenced by parental choice and parents' previous sporting experiences. The selection by the parent is critical to the long-term enjoyment of their child in a sport. Choose well and ask these questions:
n Do you know the club ethos, its policies and requirements for people involved?
n Do you understand the pathway for young people?
Are parents in the club positive role models?
n Do you understand the sportspeople's terminology?
n Do you know what goals your child is set and how you can help them achieve them?
n Do you understand about nutrition, hydration and coping with illness and injury?
n What can you do to get involved in the club, such as becoming a poolside helper or committee member?