What You Need to Know Before You Push Your Child to Try Any New ActivityNov 22, 2023
Recently, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of sports to help parents decide whether to push their kids to try sports. There are also some practical tips in that post that can help tremendously if you decide to push sports in your family, so be sure to check out the post, Should You Push Your Child to Try Sports? Today, I want to talk with you about two related topics. The first is something you absolutely need to know before you push your child to try any new activity. I’m also going to share with you my family’s personal protocol on how we handle the sports decision. Read on, and get ready to be rid of any lingering indecision about whether to register your kiddo for the next sports season.
What You Absolutely Need to Know
Before you push your child to try any new activity, you need to know why your child is reluctant to try the activity. It sounds so obvious, but this is such a critical step on the path to deciding whether to push your child to try a new activity. The end result may be the same (i.e., you choose to push your child to do sports regardless), but your child’s experience will be markedly improved if you take the time to determine what’s making them hesitant to try a new activity. You can’t effectively persuade your child to want to try sports without really understanding their reservations. Let’s roll with the sports example. This will involve a caring conversation where you empathize with their feelings and offer support. Let them know that you’re trying to understand where they’re coming from so that together, you can come up with the best plan for how to move forward. Some kids will be able to articulate their feelings, while others may need more guidance. You can suggest a few different reasons why kids are sometimes reluctant to try sports and ask which one is most similar to how they are feeling.
Your child might be super nervous to put themselves out there, trying something new, when they know nothing at all about the sport. In that case, you might be able to ease their worries by reading books or watching videos together before their first practice. Or it might help if you kick/toss/shoot the ball around in the backyard or at the local park together - or whatever they do in your child’s sport of interest. You might talk with kids they know at school who have done the sport before and hear stories about how nobody knows what they’re doing on their first day. Reassure your child that the coach is there to help them learn, and they’re not expected to know everything or be a pro on the first day.
Your child might feel like a fish out of water being in a group of new people trying a new sport. They may be the type of kid who thrives on companionship and pulls energy and confidence from being around others. In this case, you’ve got a couple of options. You can a) sign them up for a sport with a friend, even if it’s not their favorite sport - just to have that confidence boost to get them started on their sports journey. Or you can b) help them to think about how great they are at making friends and how, after just one or two practices, they’ll likely be looking forward to spending time with their new teammates. You can remind them of other similar experiences, like the first day of preschool or kindergarten. Be sure to empathize with their feelings and let them know that the strong friendship bonds they make are part of what makes them so special.
Or perhaps your child just isn’t that interested in sports, and none of them seem fun to them. Maybe the thought of cuddling up with a book in their bed or watching a movie on the couch is what lights them up. In this case, you’ll want to support them by letting them know that low-key time is a really important part of their daily routine but also point out the benefits of physical activity on their mental and physical health. Let them know that youth sports are a great way to set them on the path of lifelong healthy living and that you want them to live a long and happy life. You can also point out that many people just don’t realize how amazingly fun sports can be until they try them, and you want to be sure they have the opportunity to find out.
Another reason some kids are reluctant to try sports is worry about the competitive aspects. Perhaps they love hitting the tennis ball over the net but hate the idea of keeping score or announcing a winner. You have two main options here: 1) Talk to your kids about the reality of competitive sports; there’s always a winner and a loser, and it never feels good to lose, but it’s an opportunity to focus on what went well during the event, learn how to manage feelings of disappointment, and get inspired to keep practicing to get better and better. Or 2) Focus on non-competitive sports and place the emphasis on fun and physical fitness. A major perk to option 2, especially for a bigger family like ours, is the time commitment is much more reasonable, navigating getting the kids to practice sessions but not having to worry about traveling to competitions.
Whether your child’s reluctance to try sports is related to one of the above concerns or another one, the key is to take the time to hear them out, support their feelings, and gently encourage them to see the pros and cons of each situation to nudge them closer to viewing sports participation as a positive choice.
The Emmerson Family Sports Protocol
Next, I’ll share with you how we’ve handled the sports topic in our family. My husband and I were both athletes throughout our childhood and college careers. In fact, that’s how we met - being on the springboard diving team together at Johns Hopkins University. We both feel that sports were a huge asset to us in our youth in terms of providing social support, teaching discipline and time management, and setting us up for a lifelong habit of healthy physical activity.
At the same time, we value our children’s feelings and opinions and have tried to let them guide their own paths through childhood as much as is reasonable and safe. We also didn’t want to push sports too early to risk burnout. The tricky part is that only 1 of our 4 children expressed interest in sports in their youth, and even that one had some reservations. Despite speaking positively about sports, modeling participation in physical activities through our own participation in biking (my husband) and yoga (me), and gently offering opportunities every time registration for local recreational sports came around, only one of the kids jumped on the many opportunities for sports offered in our town. We’ve had kids that fall in each of the categories listed above - nerves, friends, disinterest, and competition keeping them from wanting to try sports.
So, how do you balance respecting your child’s preferences with not wanting them to miss out on an opportunity to discover something they may love, can be hugely socially beneficial, and will help keep them healthy?
- Make a Decision: As parents, are you going to let your kids decide or force them to try sports?
- Commit to the Decision: Help boost your child’s confidence by explaining your reasoning and standing by your decision.
- Set the Parameters: In our family, by the summer after second grade, you must choose some form of physical activity every season, whether it’s a week-long archery summer camp, a fall playing flag football, a winter shooting hoops, or a spring dance class.
We balanced our reservations about forcing them to try a sport with being extremely flexible on what counted as a sport and encouraging them to try anything that sounded at all appealing to them. This rule helped our anxious kid try soccer, then go on the next year to become a nationally-ranked rock climber. This rule helped our extroverted kid who only wanted to play if his friends were on his team try soccer and baseball before going on to join a team that won two local flag football championships. This rule helped our disinterested kid discover the world of aerials. Now, years later, she feels a sense of love for the sport and gratitude that we made her try it. And this rule helped our non-competitive kid finally find a sport he excels at and is now eager to compete in. At least three of those kids might never have tried sports without the nudge from their parents. What a loss that would have been to their self-confidence, friendship network, and physical fitness. If you really dive deep into why your child is reluctant to try sports, you will learn how you can best support them through the experience of trying sports. The positive outcomes can be amazing.
To truly understand why your child may not be interested in trying sports, or any new activity for that matter, it's crucial to have a heart-to-heart with them and get them to open up about their worries or fears. Take into account what you know about their personality. Some children may prefer individual activities over team sports, while others prefer non-competitive over competitive. Some children need the support of a friend on the team, while others just need some basic coaching from their parents to feel confident before the first practice. The benefits of sports participation are numerous, but it's important to strike a balance between encouraging your child and respecting their individuality. By understanding their reservations and preferences, you can better support and guide them toward activities that align with their strengths and interests. If you’ve got a kiddo who’s reluctant to try sports and you’d like to nudge them in that direction, start today by having a supportive talk about their feelings and concerns, then use that information to help guide them down the sports path.
Deciding when to push your child to try a new activity falls under the Choices & Checkpoints category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see Are You An Intentional Parent? to learn more about the 5 C’s). To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen. Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!
P.S. Taking the time to get intentional about your parenting and really connect with your child to help them through a tricky experience like trying a new sport is amazing parenting. Continue your amazing parenting journey with me in my free bootcamps. I look forward to educating and empowering your parenting practice.
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