For many parents, part of the joy of having a walking, talking toddler is the fact that you can finally enroll your child in sports. You have likely been dreaming for years of seeing your son wearing a football uniform, or watching your daughter wield a bat. And now, the time has come! Game on! Plus, you know deep down inside your gut that your son has natural talent, the kind so entrenched that he or she will become a super star some day. Right? And hey, there are definitely benefits to involving your child in sports.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit to sports is exercise. Children today do not get the exercise that they need daily to stay healthy. In fact, with childhood obesity rates topping all time highs, and more children under the age of 10, being considered over weight than ever before, a little exercise is definitely not going to hurt your child. Not to mention the fact that in many schools today, physical education and recess times are being rescinded - leaving these venues and the responsibility of exercise, completely up to the parents to provide for their child. A soccer, football, dance, softball, baseball, or gymnastics program can be the perfect solution.
Yet another obvious benefit to having a child involved in sports is enjoyment. Most children will enjoy the outlet that an athletic program provides. Of course, as a parent it is your job to make sure that the program is age appropriate. Until children are at least 7-8, parents should not push programs that are extremely competitive such as the ever-popular traveling sports teams. Even at 7-8, the stress of constant competition and pressure to perform can take the fun out of the game for a child. For the average child, it takes years to excel at sports, and competency is not achieved for most athletes until they are in middle or high school. Go into the sports program with the first and foremost expectancy that it should be fun!
Developmentally speaking, team sports also offer children a chance to move from their egotistical life style. Games and sports ALL have rules and boundaries. Team sports require the participation and cooperation of ALL participants. This can help even very young children move from the thinking that life revolves around them, to the realization that there are other people in this world that matter as well. The boundaries provided help children understand not just the importance, but also the prominence - in rules that govern life in and out of the sports field or arena.
Young children involved in sports learn about sharing, taking turns and friendship as well by being involved in athletic activities. Additionally, if the program is coached or taught by competent adults, children can learn at a young age to trust and respect other adults, as well as find mentors in their life outside of the familial circle. This is an often overlooked – yet powerful part of being involved in sports programs and activities. Many parents may hold children who are extremely timid or shy from sports in the fear that they are not ready. However, for these children in particular, becoming part of a team and having compassionate mentors, can help them overcome that shyness.
As you child gets older, the lessons that come with sports are invaluable. Many people refer to patience, practice, and persistence as the three P’s to success in life. As your child wants to excel, they learn that success takes work from them – and are given the choice to purse the three P’s. Parents should use sports as a way to instill this desire for success in children – yet should not apply a fourth P…pressure, in order to drive the point home. Allow children to make mistakes, to NOT practice and see the results so that they can learn from their own life experience how important the three P’s are, not just in sports, but also in life.
Let us fast forward to the teen years, and the benefit of keeping your children busy in sports becomes invaluable. Research evidence strongly suggests that teens who actively participate in athletic or extra curricular programs at least 1 -2 times per week, have higher scores in school, are less likely to be involved in drugs or alcohol, spend less time on the computer, are less likely to engage in unprotected sex, have a reduced rate of teenage pregnancy, and experience better physical and emotional wellbeing overall. Additionally, sports enable children to become more self-confident and to find social acceptance within peer groups, which are important assets to your child’s life.
The benefits that your child will reap by being involved in athletics will be varied and many. Just remember as a parent, it is equally important that you remain focused on the lessons of sports and not on concepts of winning and losing. Allow your child to participate to the extent - and as well as they are personally able to, so the activity remains enjoyable. Whether you choose to sit on the sidelines and watch, or to become part of the coaching staff, always make sure that your child is participating in a program that they enjoy! Don’t underestimate a child’s capability to feel ‘silent’ pressure from you because they know deep down that they are participating in something YOU want them to do.
Another hint for parents! Try not to keep your child locked into one thing. If your daughter is an amazing softball player – make sure she tries basketball, tennis or golf. In other words, don’t lock your child into one venue too soon; allow them to test the waters. Until children are much older, they don’t truly understand that they can play more than one sport. By giving them lots of options, and ensuring they are having fun – you will set the tone for a lifelong love of sporting activities.