Most parents know that sports contribute significantly to children’s physical, psychological and psychosocial health. And so it can be frustrating to watch their children refuse to try out any sports. Or want to quit after a short period. That frustration can make parents want to force things a little because they fear their children might grow up to be quitters. “Fortunately, there is little evidence to support any of these fears,” says Joseph Austerman, a board-certified psychiatrist in Cleveland, Ohio.
As a parent, if your child says they want to quit you need to step back and carefully analyze the situation. Does it seem like they’re having fun when they play? That’s the first thing children look for in sports. What’s more, is that sport age-appropriate? Are they under pressure to excel? This is particularly prevalent, fostered by overzealous coaching and negative parental involvement. According to a Ferris State University case study, most college athletes wanted to feel supported – but not pushed, pressured or coached from the sidelines by their parents – during their youth sports experiences. “Every participant thought that over-involvement of parents in youth sports is a major concern that needs to be addressed,” says Dr. Jon Coles, an assistant professor of sport management at Grand Valley State, who conducted the study.
Why Children Should Play Sports – It is Not to Be World Champion
A few parents tend to cite the potential risk of injury as their reason for not encouraging their children to play sports. There is a risk of injury in sports, but that can also happen anywhere. The mental and physical benefits of sports outweigh the potential risks. More people die every year due to ill health from lack of exercise than from doing sport. Remember sport does not need to always be an organized team event. Below are some reasons your child should play sports.
- They improve their personal health. Improving their health is one of the core advantages of playing sports. Sports prompt children to uproot themselves from the front of a television or gadgets and go outside. According to a review by physical activity epidemiologist C J Caspersen, physical inactivity has been described as the fourth-highest risk factor for mortality worldwide. It is associated with excess morbidity and mortality in adults. A sedentary lifestyle in childhood has also been associated with higher body fatness, poor diet and lower self-regulation, lower levels of cognitive development, and reduced cardiovascular health. As a parent, you need to encourage and fuel your child’s excitement in sports. It is also one of the most important aspects of mental health.
- They learn commitment. Commitment is vital to success in life. Without that ability to commit to something and stick it out, your child may never be successful in their career, education, and relationships. Playing sports can help your child build commitment. Once they find a team sport they like, they’re required to practice at certain times a week. Having to leave the house to get to practice teaches children how to commit for an extended period.
- Keeps children occupied. There’s nothing wrong with children or adolescents playing video games now and then. But most parents don’t like when their children hole themselves up in their room playing video games all day. Video games and the like keep children inactive. Helping your child find a fun sport might just be what gets them out of the house after school. During practice, they get to keep fit, mingle and interact with other children.
- Helps them build resilience. In life, we are bound to experience adversity, setbacks, frustration, and disappointment now and then. Building resilience in your children is crucial for many reasons. They are unavoidable. Resilience and grit get us through adversity. Sports present different kinds of adversities and setbacks. For example, playing outdoor sports in unforgiving weather conditions builds resilience. Children have the chance to see how much they can persevere. It fills them with confidence and pride. Secondly, playing a team sport and participating in competitions also contribute to building resilience and grit in children. In a team sport, setbacks are the norm. After each one, the team has to pick themselves up and go again. Your child gets to be part of that.
- They develop leadership skills. Decision-making, communication, and knowing how to deal with people are central to leadership. These are attributes your child needs to navigate the world daily. Not just in leadership positions. A review by Katrijn Opstoel, a researcher at the University of Utrecht, found that 19 studies reported the relationship between sports and leadership. Your child will learn to communicate on a team and even lead on occasion. Examples of leadership are a key thing that employers and colleges look for.
- They learn to win and lose gracefully. Winning and losing are normal in sports. The same can be said of life in general. Anyone who has played sports long enough will tell you that effort greatly influences results. But there will be times when you’ve done your best and things might simply not work out. In cases like that, one has to accept it for what it is without turning it into a personal failure. This is one of the mental benefits of playing sports. Your child would learn to win and lose gracefully. They’ll learn to find the courage to go again because they understand that failure is part of winning.
If your child loves sport and is looking to become elite, we discuss more here on how to support your child in sport.
Why Your Child May Not Be Interested in Sports
Many parents want their children to play sports and are willing to do whatever they can to get them to. But some children aren’t just interested. Some may even start playing and then quit soon afterward. It’s vital to understand why your child isn’t interested in sports if you want to get them interested. Below are a few reasons.
- It might be the wrong sport. Every child is different. Just because soccer is popular and many children excel at it doesn’t mean you should encourage your child to go for it. You know your child’s interests, temperament, and overall personality. Are they the kind that can put in a hard tackle? Will they be fine steamrolling another child off the ball? Can they take a tackle themself? As a parent, these are questions you need to consider when choosing a sport for your child. If you get it wrong at this stage, your child might go on to try out the sport you want. But the chances of them quitting along the way is high. If your child is not competitive, let them try something like rock climbing or skateboarding. They only compete against themselves but still enjoy the other aspects of group activities above.
- They might be afraid to fail. The truth is that sport is no longer just about fun for many parents. Over the years, some parents have become obsessed with their children being good at sports. That obsession reflects in the numbers. Experts have estimated that families spend nearly $10 billion a year on travel for youth sports. At the same time, private youth coaching is now a growing $6 billion-a-year industry. Then there are the expensive specialty camps for the summer. Some parents even take their children to sports psychologists, who help them master self-regulation on the field. All of these indicate the lengths parents will go to. While this isn’t a bad aspiration, it invites immense pressure on your child. In turn, that pressure makes them afraid to fail.
- They may be suffering burnout. Parents these days like to keep their children busy. After school every day, most children go to practice and other extracurricular classes. Then get to their schoolwork in the evening. With this kind of tight schedule, your child may cut back on their effort, lose interest and quit sports altogether. Your child may have realized that they can’t cope with all the activities and are trying to self-regulate. Sport might just be what they’ve decided to sacrifice.
- It might not be age-appropriate. Young children can sometimes find it difficult to perform consistently. At that age, they’re simply out to have fun. And if they aren’t having fun, that’s even more reason to underperform. Children of various ages have different ideas of what constitutes fun. So before pointing your child to a particular sport, make sure it fits their idea of fun. Their age is a good indicator of what they might find fun.
- There might be underlying problems. Where children are concerned, learn to always look underneath instead of reacting to the issue. The answer to a child who seems disinterested in the field isn’t yelling or tough love. What if the child isn’t concentrating because they have Attention Deficit Disorder? Try to find out what’s going on by asking questions and leaving communication channels open.
How to Get Your Child Interested in Sports
Some children playing sports grow disinterested after some time, while others may not want to play at all. Either way, you want to get them interested again for their own sake. But how do you go about this? Find some valuable tips below.
- Be a model. Your child needs to associate sports with fun. Beyond that, they need to know that it’s important. They’d scarcely think that if you lead a sedentary lifestyle as a parent. If sports are so important and fun, then why aren’t you doing it? Thankfully, there are different ways to show your child how important and fun sports can be. For example, you can go for runs, join the local gym, or do sports with your child. Play basketball or baseball and go on bike rides. It is important for the overall relationship with your child that you do things together.
- Take them to watch games. Taking your child to games is a great way to kindle their interest in playing sports. It’s always good for them to see how games are played up close. Seeing the wonder of the techniques, the anticipation and rush of triumph might just ignite their interest. On days you can’t go to games, you might watch on TV. It’s not the same, but it can do the job.
- Let them choose. When your child begins to show interest in playing a particular sport, let them go for it. Encourage them even. Most children quit a sport because they didn’t choose it to begin with. For some reason or the other, their parents might have thought it suitable and needled them into it. Instead of choosing for your child, what you might do is to encourage them to try out different sports before settling for one or two. This helps them find a sport that’s suitable for their personality.
- Don’t go overboard. Sometimes parents catch the fever and go overboard. That your child is making waves in soccer doesn’t mean you should add baseball and basketball to it. Juggling these games is difficult, and not every child can do it. On the flip side, don’t encourage an intense focus on a single sport either, at least not early on. “Too much monotony—one sport several times a week plus weekend matches—can make it feel more like a job than a fun activity, but too much variety can leave her too busy to learn to love any one of them,” says Tina Syer, former president of Positive Coaching Alliance. Here we discuss more for what sport is right for your child?
Final Thoughts on Why Every Child Should do Sport
Overall, never force your child to play sports. If they don’t want to play or they quit after some time, continue to encourage them. Forcing them will just make them dislike sports more. Present them with different options and let them do what they like. Support them even if you don’t like their sport of choice. Ultimately, it’s about your child, not you.