Thinking about getting your kids involved in organized sports, but concerned they don’t have the skills? Or maybe that they’re too young? Not to worry, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In June, the organization released a report recommending that parents enroll their children in organized sports, no matter what their skill level.
This endorsement of organized sports is a great reminder that kids of all ages benefit from joining a local or school sports team. While age and ability need to be taken into account, parents shouldn’t hesitate to encourage their children to find physical activities that they love.
Whether your little one is 3 or 4 years old or, well, not so little, it’s never too early — or late — to reap the benefits of joining a team. Before you enroll your toddler, child, preteen or teen in organized sports, consider these points.
More Than Physical Activity
There are many wonderful reasons why you should encourage your children to participate in organized sports. To begin with, joining a sports team greatly increases a child’s physical activity. Whether kids are involved with soccer, swimming, tennis, track or something else, they’re far more likely to meet the AAP’s recommendation of one hour of exercise a day, most days of the week. Of course, this level of exercise offers numerous pluses, including a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.
Still, organized sports aren’t just great for staying healthy. Kids also learn how to be good team players. They learn to follow rules and be respectful of coaches and officials. They develop better motor skills and a higher self-esteem. Additionally, they also develop social skills by being surrounded by other kids their own age. Many children will even develop close and meaningful friendships with their teammates!
Overall, think of organized sports as a long-term investment: Many of the skills your kids will learn through sports will translate into adulthood.
What if They’re Just Not Interested?
Not all kids love playing sports, and that’s okay. The key is to provide children with a variety of activities to choose from. For instance, while they may not enjoy baseball or basketball, they might discover that they excel at tennis or swimming. Or, for children who are stubborn or fearful about trying a new sport, consider choosing activities that their friends already are involved with. If their peers play a particular sport, they may be more willing to give it a try.
If organized sports really aren’t their thing, kids can participate in the team experience in other ways. Children can still reap the benefits of being in a team environment by acting as a ball boy or girl, helping with the equipment or scheduling, or assisting coaches in other ways. Some sports teams also may be looking for someone to keep score or photograph events or practices. Consider talking to your school’s administrators or physical education department for guidance.
Focus on Fun and Development
The AAP’s report not only examined the nationwide increased interest in physical activity, but also a cultural shift toward focusing on fun and development rather than just winning. Of course, this culture of fun starts with the parents and coaches. Some children are naturally more competitive than others and always want to win. (Many parents also can relate to having a child who hates to lose.)
Whatever the situation, it’s vital for adults to emphasize good sportsmanship, teamwork, fairness, fun and effort. Parents and coaches also should always model the behavior that they want to see in their children. Keep the pressure off the little ones and let them learn to enjoy sports!
Even kids as young as age 3 or 4 need to be taught how to be gracious winners when they’re the champs, and good sports when they lose.
How can you help your children master these vital life lessons? For one, don’t always let your child win. Whether they’re sitting down to a game of chess or walking onto the tennis court, kids need to develop the skills required to beat more experienced competitors. For the majority of children, this will motivate them to work harder and practice more.
By engaging in organized sports in a virtuous way, kids will grow to understand that failure is part of life and better learn how to handle it.
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