How do you choose the right sport for your child? And how do you know if it’s time to quit? Keep these tips in mind as you weigh your options.
There’s no shortage of evidence that participating in sports is beneficial for children: it contributes to physical, mental and emotional development and helps them learn self-confidence, resilience and sportsmanship. Plus, the more frequently children participate in sports as children, the more likely they are to be active as adults.
So how do you choose the right sport for your child? Keep the following factors in mind:
Interests, abilities and temperament. Are there particular sports that your child loves to watch on TV? Is your child drawn more to individual or team sports? Is he best at activities requiring primarily endurance, speed or coordination? Does she want to do something that all her friends are doing or something uniquely hers?
Physical and emotional readiness. Talk to the instructor or coach to find out what physical characteristics (strength, height, endurance, complex motor skills, etc.) are needed, and discuss your child’s mental readiness to follow directions, practice teamwork and handle the pressure of competition.
Time and cost involved. Evaluate the travel and practice time needed and make sure they’re compatible both with your family’s schedule and with your child’s schoolwork and other commitments. And be honest about whether you can afford the investment in lessons, uniforms, shoes and equipment.
Particularly in primary school, children are in the ‘sampling’ stage and should be exposed to different types of activities to help them figure out what they’re most interested in. Before signing up for a new activity, talk to your child and decide what would be a fair test period, considering that many skills take time to develop and the sport may not be particularly enjoyable until a certain level of proficiency is reached.
The decision to quit a sport can be a sensitive one. On one hand, you want your child to learn perseverance (and to not regret having given up too quickly on something that might prove rewarding later), but on the other hand you don’t want to force your child to stick with something that isn’t a good fit. Here are some signs that it might be time to try something else:
It’s not fun anymore. Children’s interests change as they grow and develop. If your child is going to practice just to please you (maybe you used to be a star football player, and your daughter knows you want her to follow in your footsteps), take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You may have invested time and money in lessons, uniforms and equipment, but if your child isn’t enjoying the sport anymore, it may be time to cut your losses and move on.
Normal pre-competition jitters are turning into full-blown anxiety attacks. Again, children’s sports are supposed to be fun, so if your child is stressed to the point that sleep and schoolwork are suffering, it may be time to take a break.
Your child is constantly getting injured. If your child is spending more time on the bench than actually playing, or has a recurring injury that never quite heals, it might be best to switch to a different sport rather than risk long-term damage. A chronically injured runner, for example, might be better off trying cycling or swimming.
The instructor or coach is a bully. Many youth coaches are demanding and try to toughen up their players, but some cross the line into abusing their position of power. If the coach is shoving or swearing at players, or forcing them to work out past the point of exhaustion or to play when injured, that’s not a healthy environment.
Your child may try a few different sports before finding the right one, but remember that more than just teaching the specific physical skills involved, sports enable children to make new friends, learn discipline and teamwork, and develop the habits of an active lifestyle. Those benefits and lessons will stay with them into adulthood.
How many sports did your children try before they found the right one?