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Kids and Sports: The Parents’ Role

The benefits of organized sports for children cannot be overestimated. Even when a child is not particularly sports-oriented or does not excel on the playing field, the experience itself is valuable. It teaches kids how to work with others and how to take instruction, it introduces them to teamwork, competition, and the importance of practice, and it encourages them to challenge themselves to do difficult things. Meanwhile, it also provides all-important physical activity, which is as important as ever in the age of the obesity epidemic.

But there are many things to consider when involving your child in sports. Most important, you have to think about whether your child is ready and which sports might be the best match for him or her. Every child is different, and some children thrive in some sports and flounder in others. You know your child best, so you will have to use your own judgment in making this decision.

There are a few obvious choices in team sports for young children. In the U.S., tee-ball and soccer are popular choices, but there are plenty of others, especially if you live in a city where there are many opportunities. Basketball, softball, volleyball, and youth football are also available to young children, though each comes with a unique set of concerns.

But you do not have to rely on team sports. There are plenty of other sporty activities that kids can enjoy—for example, gymnastics, swimming, dancing, martial arts, jump-roping, bicycle riding, and hiking. And for children who get enough physical activity yet are not inclined toward athletic sports, other possibilities include chess, book clubs, and ping pong. Scouting—as in boy scouts, girl scouts, and their younger equivalents—is also a good replacement for sports.

Things to consider
When signing your child up for sports or a similar activity, there are a few things to keep in mind, including the following.

•    Will your child still have enough free time for homework, home play, family time, creative play, and other activities? Sports can be fun, but young children especially need plenty of free time.
•    Does the schedule of practice and games conflict with your family schedule?
•    If you have multiple children playing sports, do their separate schedules work together harmoniously, or will you have to do a lot of running around to get them to their practices and games?
•    What level of involvement are you able and willing to handle? Many youth sports leagues encourage active parental involvement.

Calling it quits
When starting your child in one of these activities, try not to sweat it too much. Many children go through many sports-related activities before finding one that they enjoy. Talk to your child about what he or she wants to do, and do not get angry or frustrated if they decide they no longer want to participate in an activity. Of course, persistence is an important skill to learn, but there also has to be some level of enjoyment.

As a parent, you are in the best position to determine whether your child is truly ready to quit. If he or she is simply frustrated after a bad practice or a losing game, or if the request to quit comes during a bad mood, then you can probably put off quitting for now. But if your child seems consistently unhappy with the activity, does not seem to be thriving, and is no longer benefiting from the experience, then there is a good chance that the activity is not right for your child and that it is time to try something else.

By Jamell Williams

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