Recently, a father came to me with his eight-year-old son. He wanted his child to become a future world champion in badminton. He wanted me to assess and then address his son’s physical fitness, which he felt was lacking. I was given 18 months to raise the child’s fitness level to international standards. I loved the challenge because I thought I had full parental support and we were on the same page.

Physical examination of the child suggested a medical problem in his lower back that was a result of excessive training for the sport with poor fitness levels. The child’s body simply wasn’t ready to take more stress at this point. When I informed the father that this problem could result in a serious problem for the child later, he did not seem very interested. His only focus was on creating a world-class athlete, not on his eight-year-old son who needed to be healthy first.

It was also sad to note that the child wasn’t really very excited about the sport. He played it because his father wanted him to.

Currently my son is playing in an under-7 cricket tournament. Parents of other children in his team, like me, have been very interested in getting the children to train together and also show up regularly to cheer the team. The first match was a one-sided game that my son’s team won but in the second match, his team was outplayed in all departments. Suddenly, during the second match, the behaviour of most parents whose children were playing in the same team as my son, changed. Most were unhappy about the team losing. Just before the third match, I was asked by a parent, “Why play if it’s not to win?"

I felt that the parent was missing a very basic point. No one likes to lose. But there is a lot more to playing sports than simply winning. In the third match, the other team needed 77 runs to win in 10 overs. They made 41 in the first four overs, for no loss. Most parents on our team had given up hope, and we were a very silent bunch. But somehow, my son’s team pulled off a victory. Later the coach rightly pointed out that it was a victory for the children because it was their collective strength of character and spirit that pulled them through.

But I feel this was a huge loss for the parents, because they didn’t have enough trust in their own children and their abilities and failed to back them till the very end.

It is our responsibility as parents to instil the right traits in our children. Children should be encouraged to play or participate in the physical activities they enjoy. As parents we should push them, from time to time, to improve their game but this push should not be to a point where your child starts to dislike the sport or plays only to win.

It is more important to encourage them to play so that they become healthy. My son thoroughly enjoys playing cricket and has no pressure from me whatsoever. It is no coincidence that he managed to be the whizz-kid of a match once. I believe it is simply because he has fun on the field.

All I can say to the father who wants his son to be a badminton champion: Don’t try to live your dreams through your child. If you were good at a particular sport, but didn’t make it for whatever reason, it does not mean that your child has to take over from where you left. Sure, you are doing a great job by providing your child with the facilities you did not have when you were growing up, but that does not mean he has to succeed.

For me, healthy and happy children, who are great human beings, are more important than world champions. In any case, you need to be fit to play sports, not just to win medals. In fact sports can teach children many things, such as respect for all team members, discipline, etc.

It is ironical that sports can teach children all this and more but that parents, schools, coaches—basically the system—ignore this aspect of learning.

Rajat Chauhan is an ultra marathon runner and a doctor specializing in sports and exercise medicine and musculoskeletal medicine, and founder of Back 2 Fitness.

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