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Youth Sports: Are the Kids Really Having Fun?

IMAGE Children's sports can start out as an enjoyable activity and turn into an overly competitive chore that is not fun for far too many kids.

American Academy of Pediatrics Report

Pointing to the increasing pressure and competition involved in children's athletics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents do not push children to specialize in one sport, at least until they reach adolescence.

Overall, any physical activity is better than watching too much television. Organized sports contribute to physical fitness while developing basic motor skills. In addition, it can help your child with learn leadership skills, self confidence, and the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship. It will also teach them the importance of success and failure.

In making its recommendation, the AAP cited research showing that young children who participate in a variety of athletic activities and delay specializing in a particular sport until adolescence tend to:

  • Have fewer sports-related injuries
  • Be more consistent performers
  • Participate in sports for a longer period of time

Positive Steps for Parents

In some cases, parents pressure their children into playing sports and having a "win at all costs" attitude. This type of pressure, though, takes away the many benefits of participating in an organized sport, like being part of a team, exercising, competing, and having fun.

There are steps that you can take, though, to highlight these benefits:

Promote Variety

Instead of having your child specialize in one sport, encourage him to participate in various sports and/or athletic activities.

Evaluate the Benefits and Potential Harm

Organized, competitive sports for young children can also have its down side.Consider a series of questions to help determine whether your children's athletic activities are beneficial or harmful:

  • Is the activity fun?
  • Does my child have friends on the sports team or group?
  • Is my child participating because they enjoy doing so?
  • Does my child look forward to going to practice and/or games?
  • Am I pressuring my child to participate in a sport or athletic activity?
  • Am I deriving more enjoyment or fulfillment from my child's athletic activities than my child is?

Here are other tips:

  • While praising your child for and pointing out the benefits of winning, stress the greater importance of simply enjoying the activity.
  • Applaud your child's good efforts.
  • Ask your child if his team won, but only in addition to questions such as: "What was the best part of the practice or game? " or "Did you have fun?"
  • Do not pressure your child. Instead, offer to help your child practice and improve his skills.

Evaluate the Coach and the League

Make certain your child's coach and league are creating a safe and enjoyable atmosphere. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the coach putting too much pressure to win on my child and his teammates?
  • In addition to giving proper athletic training, is the coach teaching good sportsmanship and proper and acceptable behavior?
  • Is the coach pushing the children beyond the physical limitations appropriate for their age?
  • Does the coach emphasize a team effort by working toward a common goal?
  • Does the coach yell or belittle team members when they make mistakes?

If you discover that a coach or league is violating any of the above ground rules and safeguards, speak to the coach or supervising organization about the problem and, if possible, offer to help. If, after doing so, the problem is not solved, remove your child from the situation and find another team or league.

Show Good Sportsmanship Yourself

In addition to coaches, parents must practice good sportsmanship and acceptable behavior when watching their children participate in sports and athletic activities.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics

    www.healthychildren.org

  • National Alliance for Youth Sports

    http://www.nays.org

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Intensive training and sports specialization in young athletes. Pediatrics. 2000;106:154-157.

  • Being a good sport (spectator): A quick guide for parents. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/13/being-a-good-sport-(spectator)-a-quick-guide-for-parents. Published January 13, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2013.

  • Choosing a sports program. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sports/Pages/Choosing-a-Sports-Programs.aspx. Updated August 1, 2013. Accessed October 21, 2013.

  • Parenting my champion: getting started. Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University website. Available at: http://www.educ.msu.edu/ysi/parents/USTA%5Fparent%5Fchecklist.pdf. Accessed October 21, 2013.

  • What makes a good coach? Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: ttp://kidshealth.org/teen/food%5Ffitness/sports/good%5Fcoach.html. Accessed October 21, 2013.

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