Have you ever noticed that children can be very wise and insightful about their activities and schedules? This happens at my house, too. When a new school year starts, along with new team schedules and more practices than the season before, we take a few weeks to let things settle out. As we ponder the best way to juggle the priorities, inevitably my son steps forward with important insights that direct our planning. He might suggest dropping something from an over-full schedule or approaching a commitment in a different way.
This happens also when kids are working out their preferences for the type of sport or activity they want to do. Some kids simply love sports. Other kids are completely fine not playing a sport and would much rather play games on the computer, read books, or watch TV. And then there are kids who fall somewhere in between—they enjoy sports and physical activity but maybe they don’t have the competitive spirit of the real sports lovers.
According to the National Council of Youth Sports, approximately 44 million children in America participate in organized youth sports programs each year. Favorites like baseball (Little League Baseball was established in 1939), football (Junior Football Conference was established in 1929), soccer (American Youth Soccer Organization was established in 1964), and ice hockey (USA Junior Hockey was established in 1999) have turned organized youth sports into an institution in the U.S.
Clearly, youth sports are loaded with benefits that go far beyond exercise. Sports also enhance kids’ social skills, self-confidence, and self-discipline. It’s no surprise that many athletes are also good students, applying their hard work ethics to their studies. Plus, athletes are less likely to get involved in drugs and crime. (For more on this topic, visit Kids Play USA Foundation.) The list of positives goes on and on.
But playing year-round soccer or three sports a year is not the right fit for everyone. My observation of kids and sports is that it sometimes takes a couple of switch-offs—trying a sport and when the interest or talent isn’t there, then moving on to another sport or activity. Parents should know that mainstream organized sports aren’t the only option when it comes to getting their kids involved. Part of our job as parents is to introduce our kids to all kinds of fitness possibilities.
Luckily, there are so many activities to choose from these days! Martial arts, hip hop dance, skating, and surfing are all examples of activities that will get kids up on their feet and moving. (The Mayo Clinic has more suggestions and guidelines on their website.)
And don’t forget social clubs. The Scouts and drama club are both excellent extracurricular activities, offering a nice mix of social and physical activity.
Listening is what’s really important. Letting your child help to choose physical activities that suit his or her personality—a notion called “fitness personality”—is a smart way to encourage exercise and involvement. (See KidsHealth for more on kids’ fitness personalities and motivating kids to be active.) Help your child discover activities that really spark interest, even if it’s just for one “season” and they move on to something else. Childhood is all about trying and learning new things.
Kids also need to learn commitment, so changing sports or activities mid-season is not necessarily recommended. I’ll write soon about ways to approach “sticking it out” for a season when the activity is not the best fit for the long term. We’ve all been there, right? The goal is helping kids to develop a life-long desire for a fit and a healthy lifestyle.
Don’t give up, parents! Support your child in finding a good fit for physical activity, socialization, and adventure. What works for your best friend’s family might not be what’s best for yours.