How to Approach Team Sports Participation


Healthy Living - October 11, 2016
Mark Allen, MD - Acadia Hospital
Sports are fun, great exercise, improve mental health (reduce stress, boost mood), and help kids develop both physical and social skills. By participating in organized sports, young athletes also develop good exercise habits for the future – for example, adolescents who play sports are 8x more likely to be active at age 24 as adolescents who do not play sports. Attitudes and behavior taught to children in sports carry over to adult life, and parents should take an active role in helping their children develop good sportsmanship. So, how can we create the most positive experience for them?
  • Recognize that all children are different. Consider each child’s needs, skills, and interests when helping them choose a sport.
    • Encourage children to explore a variety of options to find what they enjoy.
    • Be careful about imposing your own wishes on your child…just because you played  soccer as a kid does not mean it is right for your son or daughter.
    • Encourage them to play more than one (cross-train) and NOT to specialize
      • A well-rounded approach will prevent burn-out
      • For example, if your child is on a soccer team, have him or her play basketball, volleyball or tennis one day a week to break up the monotony
  • Be open-minded. Your child may choose a sport that is unfamiliar to you.
    • Learn about the sport, and before committing, research the personality of the coach and the atmosphere of the games
  • Go to games (and practice)!
    • Yes, this takes time.  And may pose challenges for work schedules.
  • Model respectful behavior as a spectator – don’t be THAT parent
    • Passion does not equate to an obsession with winning
    • Watch sports games together and encourage your child to point out examples of both good and bad sportsmanship and discuss how the situation could have been handled. 
    • It is important to stress that inappropriate/disrespectful behavior is not acceptable
  • Have realistic performance expectations and teach how to handle disappointments and losing
  • Provide emotional support and positive feedback
  • Help your child talk with you about their experiences with the coach and other team members
  • If you are concerned about the behavior or attitude of your child's coach, you may want to talk with the coach privately or approach league officials.
    • A good coach will make sure that every child on the team gets a chance to play and enjoy the sport.
    • Some coaches, however, may play the best athletes most of the time, and may even cut or discourage kids who do not possess the talent or physical maturity of their peers.
  • Encourage your child to let you know if they are feeling over-extended and just need a break.
    • While you might believe that your child thinks competing in games or going to practices is always fun, your child might think it’s just the opposite
  • Don’t be a helicopter parent and attempt to control all of their activities -- make sure there is enough unstructured time to play, read a book or be with friends.
  • Quantify your child’s activity schedule, and emphasize quality.  This includes listing the hours practicing, training for, driving to and from, and playing a sport.  Then list all the other activities your child pursues, which can include more than one sport, studying, playing video games, and chores.
    • If possible, rank the activities in order of your child’s preference
    • Remember that BALANCE between school, extracurriculars, and free time is the goal
Take Home Points:
  • Your child's behavior and attitude on the field reflects a combination of the coaching they receive both at practice and at home.
  • Being actively involved and talking with your children about their life is very important, and sports can be an excellent avenue for this.
  • Being proud of accomplishments, sharing in wins and defeats, and talking to them about what has happened helps them develop skills and capacities for success in life.