Sports can be an excellent way for children to get some exercise, make new friends, be mentored by positive coaches and learn strategy. Granted, not all sports experiences are positive, as some children may not enjoy what they are doing on the field or court, and in some cases, they may receive poor coaching and direction. The difficulty for some parents is to find a sport for their children that provides an appropriate balance of personal challenge and youthful enjoyment. When kids are young, they may have the opportunity to experiment and try a variety of different sports until they find something that they enjoy.
A level of interest. It obviously helps for children to enjoy the sport that they are playing. What is sometimes unclear for parents is whether the child really enjoys the sport, or whether he or she just enjoys being around other children. Some kids enjoy the uniform and the equipment just as much as the game. At times the child may not be eager to attend a practice or game, and this may be an opportunity for parents to teach their kids about commitment and dedication.
Skills and abilities. Certainly, some children excel at particular sports more than their peers, and this skill may emerge early on. Parents may want their children to try different sports, but it may be appropriate to encourage them in areas where they have more obvious strengths. Some children have the speed and coordination to play basketball, and others may have the fitness and drive to be effective on the soccer field. Others may prefer non-team sports, such as fishing, hiking, surfing or karate. The caution is that children can very quickly get pulled into a youth sports system that has year-round expectations, which may prevent participation in other sports.
Logistics, cost and schedules. Families have to decide how much they are going to let sports dictate their yearly calendar. Today’s youth sports leagues can be intense and may require a heavy schedule of practices, games and tournaments. Some children get involved in traveling teams, and parents may quickly find themselves dedicating large portions of time to cumbersome sports calendars. In addition, certain sports such as football or baseball can require a good deal of expensive equipment, and this can represent a financial burden for some families.
Appropriate parental support. What parents have to remember is that the perfect sport for their child is one that the child is interested in. Some parents want their child to succeed so badly that they put pressure on the child to play sports even if interest starts to wane. Therefore, parents must maintain a level of reality. As Jim Thompson, of the Positive Coaching Alliance, notes, adults need to focus on the big picture and not worry about the score. Parents cannot assume that their children will grow up to be professional stars, and they must remember that youth sports is supposed to be fun for the child.