Should You Push Your Child to Try Sports?Oct 11, 2023
Parents often wonder whether they should push their children to try different activities, whether it’s picking up a new sport, learning to play a musical instrument, or trying a new hobby. In this week’s post, we will delve into the topic of whether parents should push their children to try sports, exploring the potential benefits and offering guidance to help you make an informed decision. On one hand, we want to instill a healthy, active lifestyle and help our children build social connections. On the other hand, we don't want to overwhelm them or force them into something they're not interested in. It's a decision that requires careful consideration, as we want to support their growth and development while respecting their individuality. The sports decision is just one of the complicated choices we parents have to make in raising our children and falls under the Choices & Checkpoints category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting). With all tough parenting decisions, I think it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of the situation. We’ll first look at the pros and cons of pushing your kids to do sports. Then, we’ll cover practical tips you can use to help you navigate the decision-making process while encouraging sports in your family.
Pros of Kids Sports
- Developing Physical and Mental Well-Being: Participating in sports offers a myriad of benefits for your child's physical and mental well-being. Regular physical activity helps promote healthy growth, improves cardiovascular health, and strengthens muscles and bones. Engaging in sports also helps children develop coordination, balance, and agility, enhancing their overall physical fitness. Moreover, physical activity has been linked to improved mental health, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. By encouraging your child to try sports, you are helping them develop healthy habits and setting them on a path toward a healthier and happier life.
- Building Essential Life Skills: Sports provide an excellent opportunity for children to develop important life skills that will serve them well in various aspects of their lives. By participating in team sports, children learn the value of teamwork, cooperation, and effective communication. They develop skills in problem-solving, decision-making, and handling both success and failure. These skills can transfer to academic settings, future careers, and personal relationships. Encouraging your child to try sports can help them cultivate resilience, discipline, and a strong work ethic, setting them up for success in life. They’re learning a lot more than how to hit the ball in Little League.
- Fostering Social Connections and Emotional Intelligence: Sports offer an excellent opportunity for children to build social connections and develop emotional intelligence. Being part of a team allows children to forge friendships, learn to collaborate, and appreciate the importance of collective effort. They learn to navigate conflicts, manage emotions, and practice empathy. These social interactions contribute to their emotional growth and help them develop essential social skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. By encouraging your child to try sports, you are providing them with an avenue to form meaningful relationships and develop a sense of belonging. Additionally, sports can help ease school transitions by providing a sense of belonging and a ready-made group of friends. The camaraderie and shared experiences in sports can create lasting friendships and a support system for children.
- Encouraging Exploration and Self-Discovery: Introducing your child to sports opens up a world of exploration and self-discovery; they provide an opportunity for children to explore different physical activities and find something they truly enjoy, whether it's soccer, basketball, swimming, or martial arts. By trying different sports, they have the opportunity to discover their interests, strengths, and passions. Sports provide a platform for children to challenge themselves, set goals, and experience personal growth. They learn to push their limits, overcome obstacles, and develop a sense of self-confidence. Through sports, your child can uncover hidden talents, develop a sense of identity, and gain a deeper understanding of their capabilities.
- Teaching Self-Discipline and Good Habits: Participation in sports teaches children valuable life skills, such as self-discipline and forming good habits. Sports require commitment, regular practice, and adherence to rules. By engaging in sports, children learn the importance of setting goals, managing their time effectively, and prioritizing responsibilities. These skills can extend beyond the sports field and positively impact their academic performance and personal development. Moreover, the discipline and focus learned through sports can help children develop a strong work ethic and resilience, which are essential qualities for success in various aspects of life.
Cons of Kids Sports
- Time Commitment: Sports often require a significant time commitment, including practices, games, and travel. On top of other activities or family time, this can lead to a busy family schedule. It's important to consider the impact on the overall family dynamic and ensure that everyone's needs are being met as best possible. Open communication and effective time management strategies can help alleviate some of the stress associated with a busy sports schedule. Additionally, involving other family members, such as grandparents or trusted friends, can provide support and assistance in managing the logistics.
- Juggling Younger Siblings: For parents with younger siblings, making sports work can be a juggling act. It may require coordinating schedules, arranging childcare, or finding activities for the younger child while the older one is engaged in sports. However, involving younger siblings in the sports experience can create opportunities for support and bonding within the family. Encouraging younger siblings to attend games or practices, even if they are not actively participating, can help them feel included and develop an appreciation for sports. Additionally, it can foster a sense of teamwork and cooperation among siblings as they cheer each other on and celebrate each other's achievements. How sibling sports are perceived by a younger sibling depends a lot on the child and on how the family talks about the experience; this is a great opportunity to focus on positive communication. If you find younger siblings are not very excited about attending sports practices or events, put your problem-solving skills to good use and think about activities like card games or coloring books that you can bring along for entertainment, other younger siblings they can play with during practice and games, or treats you can offer to make a positive association with the act of attending sports.
- Pressure and Stress: Competitive sports can sometimes place a lot of pressure on young athletes, leading to stress and anxiety. The desire to perform well and meet expectations can be overwhelming for some children. Parents need to be especially mindful of focusing on sports as a fun and healthy activity to avoid causing undue stress for their young athletes. If your child ends up being one of the few to get a college athletic scholarship or the extremely rare professional athlete, that’s great, but please don’t plan on that statistically unlikely event so they don’t ever feel like they’ve disappointed you if it doesn’t work out.
- Burnout: Continuous participation in sports without breaks or rest periods can lead to burnout. Kids may become exhausted physically and mentally, losing interest or motivation in the sport they once enjoyed. If your child likes multiple sports, they can rotate through the seasons to keep the momentum going. Or perhaps consider taking a summer off from sports to accommodate more family travel. Burnout is a major factor in considering at what age to get your child involved in sports. Most kids are pretty energetic and active in the preschool and early elementary years; it’s the later elementary school years and junior high years when it becomes more important to schedule exercise into their weekly routines.
- Financial Costs: Depending on the sport and level of competition, the financial costs associated with participation can be significant. From registration fees or coaching fees to equipment, uniforms, and travel, you may be investing a lot in your child’s sports. Fortunately, there are a number of neighborhood sports programs that are more reasonably priced, and many sports programs offer a limited number of scholarships. So, if cost is a limiting factor, do some local research and see if there’s a way to make sports work for your child. Remember, there are lots of ways to stay active without participating in organized sports, from hiking to throwing the frisbee around at the park.
It's important to note that these cons are not meant to discourage kids from participating in sports, but rather to provide a balanced perspective. With proper guidance, support, and a focus on overall well-being, the benefits of sports can often outweigh these potential drawbacks.
Practical Tips For Encouraging Sports
Here are a few tips to help you navigate this decision-making process:
- Communicate Openly: Talk to your child about their interests and desires. If there’s any reluctance to try sports, understand their reasons; perhaps they’re nervous about trying something new, concerned they won’t know anyone on the team, or worried they won’t be good at the sport. Listen to their concerns, validate them, and help remind them of any similar experiences that they navigated successfully to encourage them to feel more confident about trying something new. For example, “I hear you, and I’m glad you shared that with me; it’s tough showing up somewhere new and not knowing anyone. It’s like that first day of kindergarten when you were so nervous. How cool is it that several of those kids are now your best friends!” Engage in a constructive conversation that allows them to express themselves without feeling pressured. This may include educating your children about the health benefits of regular physical activity and the growth opportunities that come from doing sports. Kids can understand a lot and appreciate the fact that you are thoughtful about your reasoning for asking them to do things like trying a new sport.
- Explore Alternative Activities: If your child is not interested in traditional team sports, consider exploring alternative physical activities that align with their interests. It could be dance, martial arts, gymnastics, or even outdoor activities like hiking or biking. We’ve searched our town for every athletic option possible to get our kids interested in sports. One is a traditional sports guy who is big into flag football, and one just picked up swimming, but we’ve also had our kids in parkour, aerials, diving, and rock climbing. The goal is to find an activity that they genuinely enjoy and are motivated to participate in.
- Capitalize on Social Support: Having a friend participating in sports can make a huge difference in how comfortable your child is with trying something new. It’s best-case-scenario when your child and their bestie want to try the same sport, but even if it’s just an acquaintance, seeing a familiar face can really ease the transition to a new sports team. If your child is really nervous about starting a new sport, they may even want to choose a sport that they’re slightly less interested in with a good friend just to get some experience under their belt; that may give them the confidence to try the sport they really want to do next season, even if none of their friends are interested in that sport.
- Encourage a Balanced Approach: While sports can be beneficial, it's important to encourage a balanced approach to physical activity. Engaging in a variety of activities, including sports, can help children develop a well-rounded set of skills and interests. Encourage them to try different activities and find what resonates with them. Perhaps they’re very interested in taking ukulele lessons, so you agree to sign them up for both to challenge them in different ways and offer different growth opportunities.
- Lead by Example: Do you remember learning about Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, in previous posts (see What Does Amazing Parenting Look Like? and The Power of Apologizing to Your Kids)? Children often look up to their parents as role models. If you lead an active lifestyle and participate in sports or physical activities yourself, it can inspire and motivate your child to follow suit. Show them the joy and benefits of being active, and they may be more inclined to give it a try.
- Emphasize Fun and Enjoyment: When introducing your child to sports, focus on the fun and enjoyment rather than the competitive aspect. Help them understand that sports can be a source of joy, friendship, and personal growth. Encourage them to focus on their own progress and celebrate their achievements, regardless of the outcome. This is a great opportunity to use positive reinforcement in your parenting practice (see Understanding Reinforcement vs. Punishment) and to encourage your children to develop a growth mindset (see Are You an Amazing Parent?).
- Support Their Choices: Ultimately, it's crucial to support your child's choices, even if it means they decide not to pursue sports. Respect their individuality and encourage them to explore their passions and interests in other areas. Remember, there are numerous ways for children to develop important life skills and engage in physical activity outside of traditional sports. The most important thing is for them to develop a healthy lifestyle involving regular physical activity.
Deciding whether to push your child to try sports is a challenging choice that requires thoughtful consideration. By encouraging sports participation, you provide your child with opportunities for physical and mental well-being, the development of essential life skills, and the fostering of social connections. By utilizing open communication, exploring alternative activities, and emphasizing enjoyment, you can help your child develop a positive relationship with physical activity and find activities that align with their interests and passions. However, remember to respect their choices and support their overall growth and happiness. The goal is to nurture their potential and provide them with a well-rounded upbringing that sets them on a path toward a healthy and fulfilling future. Ultimately, as a parent, you may need to make a judgment call based on your child's unique circumstances and personality, ensuring they have the opportunity to explore and experience the joys of sports while maintaining their overall well-being. Take a few minutes this week to think about whether sports are a healthy part of your family’s weekly routine and whether you might want to make any changes in that area using the practical tips outlined in today’s post.
Sports-related decisions are part of the Choices & Checkpoints category of my 5 C’s parenting framework. To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. I hope today’s post gave you some food for thought on navigating the sports debate in your family. I’ll focus on this topic again next month when we circle back to the Choices & Checkpoints category and tell you about the age when we decided to make sports (or some form of physical activity beyond PE class) a requirement in our family. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. There are a number of fun physical activities that your child can do at home to stay active and healthy. Check out some of our family’s favorite activities on my Treasures - Activities page and get inspired.