Let the Games Begin! 5 Tips for Keeping the Fun in Sports
Baseball, softball, swimming, water polo, gymnastics, dance, karate, basketball, football, lacrosse, rugby, skiing, snowboarding, field hockey, cross country, track, ice hockey – collectively, my kids have played 17 sports! My garage has been full of sports gear for years. I’ve spent countless hours driving to and from the field or gym, and watching games, meets, and races.
Why do we put in so much effort? Why so many sports?
Millions of children participate in organized sports each year. The benefits are numerous: fitness, friendships, commitment, team building skills, and of course, fun. However, there are some potential problems as well: injuries, stress, and pressure.
Here are some tips to start your kid off on the right foot if they choose to play an organized sport.
Focus on the fun. Think through the goals of your child playing sports. Hopefully, the first thing that comes to mind is having fun! A lot of kids love sports, but this basic concept so easily gets lost in the pressure to win or excel.
Some ways you and your kids can focus on the fun of playing a sport include:
- Talk with your child about what they enjoyed, and what they learned, after the game. Whether they won or lost, or how well they did (goals, runs, baskets, etc.) should be secondary, especially for young kids. The emphasis should be on fun.
- Ask if they played their best? Did they do better than last time? Did they assist their teammates?
- Go to their games and cheer, but don’t criticize or coach. Follow the model set by good youth sports organizations and coaches: “They Play. We Coach. You Cheer.”
Raise lifelong athletes. Most of the time our kids don’t play sports so they can become Olympic athletes or professional dancers. That would be unrealistic. But by encouraging them to learn the joys of physical fitness and competition at a young age, we can help them grow into healthy, physically active adults.
To help them develop a lifelong love of fitness you can:
- 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.
Let them choose. If your child wants to participate in sports they should choose what to play – not you. Let them chase their interests and encourage them to try a variety of activities. Of course, that may lead them down my path of trying 17 different sports! In our case, some were very brief experiments – which was okay by me. The shortest was when my daughter came home after one week of water polo camp and told me how much she hated it: “They’re just trying to drown me Mom!” Usually, I insisted on a full season or camp before letting them quit – I gave in that time!
Have them diversify. Even if it’s clear your child excels in one sport, it’s not good for them to concentrate year-round on a single activity. Having them play different sports in different seasons accomplishes several goals. They learn a variety of skills – such as kicking/running in soccer or 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 in one sport or position too early for their growing bodies. Cross-training can help prevent this.
Find balance. The interests of your family as a whole come before the demands of your child’s teams. You can preserve family dinners together by eating before or after practices, even if this is not your regular mealtime. You can also ask coaches that practice not be held during dinner hours.
Support active kids who’ll become active adults. The statistics on physical activity in American children – and adults – are not encouraging. While 20 to 30 million children participate in youth sports programs, about 80% drop out by the age of 12. For adults, only 3% of the population does 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Being physically active helps kids and adults maintain a healthy weight.
Your positive parenting and support for your child in sports will help them succeed and avoid these concerning statistics. Let the games begin!