Let the Games Begin: Kids and Sports

Millions of children participate in organized sports each year. The benefits are numerous and include fitness, friendships, commitment, team building skills and of course, fun. However, there are some potential problems as well; injuries, stress and pressure, for example. Here are some tips for successful sports participation for your kids.

Start by thinking through what the goals of having your child play are. Hopefully the first thing that comes to mind is just that – play or fun! This is why children love sports but this basic concept so easily gets lost in the pressure to win or, excel. How can you focus on the fun? After a game or practice, talk to your child about what they enjoyed, and what they learned.  Whether they won or lost, or how well they did (goals, runs, baskets, etc) is secondary.  The emphasis is on the fun. Why? The answer to this question leads to the next main goal of participation: lifelong physical fitness.

Do we put our kids in sports so that they can become Olympic athletes? Do we plan on our young dancers performing with the American Ballet Theater? Hopefully not, this would be unrealistic! Certainly we do hope that they will grow into healthy, physically active adults. We can plant the seed for this goal now. By having them learn the joys of physical fitness and the fun of competition at a young age, we help them develop into life-long athletes. While competing is part of athletics and can provide much of the fun, sometimes the drive to win or excel can dampen the spirit of fun. There needs to be a balance.

When your child participates in sports they should choose what they play – not you. Let them chase their interests and encourage them to try a variety of activities. Even if it becomes clear that your child is especially gifted at one sport it is not good for them to concentrate year-round on that single activity. Having them play different sports in different seasons accomplishes several goals. They learn different skills – for example: kicking/running in soccer, hand-eye coordination in baseball or softball. Mixing up their sports also prevents injuries and burnout. Increasingly young athletes are developing overuse injuries and stress fractures from specializing into one sport or position too early for their growing bodies.

A few other tips for success should be mentioned here:

  • Be a good role model for your child. Let them see you exercising. Stay in shape yourself, and enjoy physical activities with your child.
  • Consider coaching their teams or at least volunteering to help at practices.
  • Go to their games and cheer, but do not criticize or coach. Follow the model set by good youth sports organizations and coaches: “They Play. We Coach. You Cheer.”
  • Work to balance the interests of your family as a whole with the demands of your child’s teams. For example, protect family dinners by eating together before or after practices, even if this is not your family’s regular mealtime. You can also speak up to your coach to ask that practice not be held during dinner hours.

Encouraging your child’s own interest in specific sports, and emphasizing fun and fitness, can help keep your child in sports for their youth and beyond into their adulthood. The statistics on physical activity in American children are not encouraging.  Twenty to 30 million children participate in youth  sports programs, but approximately 80 percent drop out by the age of 12. Only 3 % of our population plays college sports of any type. 66% of American adults are overweight and 32% are obese. Your positive parenting and support for your child in sports will help them succeed and avoid these concerning statistics. Let the games begin!

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