Is Engaging in Sports Suitable for Your Kid?

Hey parents! ???? Whether your kiddo is already in the sports game or thinking about joining, you’ve probably got some thoughts on how sports impact their life. We all have our own childhood sports stories, right?

Playing sports during childhood can bring tons of benefits – socially, emotionally, and physically. ???????????? If you’re curious, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play has some awesome info on the value of youth sports. It’s like a gold mine for parents, schools, and youth sports groups.

But, hold up! There’s a flip side too. Sometimes coaches and parents get a bit too intense, thinking it’s the only way to build toughness in kids. Turns out, research says that can actually be bad for their health and well-being. ????

So, is sports a good fit for your child? It’s a big question. Research shows that kids in organized sports do well academically and in future jobs, but there’s more to it. You gotta dig deeper and see how it fits your own kiddo.

Winning is cool, but it’s not everything. Playing sports is about more than just victory. ????

Now, let’s talk about getting positive outcomes from youth sports. Studies say three things matter – intensity, continuity, and balance.

  • Intensity: The more time your kid spends playing sports, the better. It helps them master skills and develop strategic thinking.
  • Continuity: Sticking with sports over time is key. It helps them overcome challenges, work with teammates, and build a lifelong sense of initiative.
  • Balance: Yup, there’s more to life than sports. Kids who balance sports with other activities, like clubs or volunteering, tend to be happier and less stressed.

But here’s the thing – it’s a bit of a dilemma for families. Going all-in on sports might lead to success, but it could also bring stress and anxiety. So, it’s crucial to find the right balance.

If you want some extra guidance, check out “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids” by John O’Sullivan. He’s all about positive youth development through sports. ????

Happy parenting and cheering from the sidelines! ????????

Is Playing Sports a Good Fit for Your Child?

The truth is that neither portrait of playing sports during childhood is completely correct. Research studies have been conducted with hundreds of thousands of children who participate in sports. Generally, these studies show that youth who participate in organized sports during middle and high school do better academically and are offered greater job prospects than children who do not partake in sports activities. However, nuances exist in these studies that are important for parents to understand. Like all studies that equate youth activities with success in life, it is imperative to look deeper to learn how these findings apply to your own children.

Whatever opinions you may have formed about playing sports, the most important question: “Is playing sports a good fit for my child?” The answer involves knowing your child, the particular sport, and how the coach contributes to a positive, healthy culture for athletes. 

Playing sports must go beyond winning

Achieving Positive Outcomes from Youth Sports

Studies offer broad insights into child development and often contradict one another. Since no one child is exactly like another, parents who understand the benefits and pitfalls of playing sports and who pay attention to the individual needs of their children are more likely to raise kids that thrive in life.  Generally, studies indicate three important aspects of playing sports that affect positive youth development – intensity, continuity, and balance. A combination of all three offers the greatest benefits to kids.

Intensity Matters

The amount of time a child spends playing sports each week is particularly important to whether they receive positive developmental outcomes from their participation. Kids who spend more time playing sports have greater benefits than youth who participate at lower levels or not at all.  With greater time commitment, children develop better mastery of skills and superior knowledge of tactics and strategy. This is when playing sports can lead to the development of strategic thinking which is helpful in all aspects of life, including the ability to find and excel in the job market. No one can tell you how many hours of playing sports per week is the perfect amount. The important learning is that children who make a commitment to regular practice receive greater developmental benefits.

Continuity Matters

The stability and duration of how children participate in playing sports across their adolescent years is also important. Studies suggest that intermittent participation during the middle and high school years is not as beneficial as continuous dedication. Making a commitment to playing sports over time facilitates the likelihood that children will overcome challenges and obstacles in their performance. They also have greater opportunities to interact with teammates, learning to cope with the interpersonal challenges of working with others. This is an important aspect of developing initiative, an internal strength that lasts a lifetime.

Balance Matters

Perhaps the most important of the three aspects of playing sports is to achieve a balance between sports and other activities.  Studies show that greater developmental outcomes are attained by children who spend time in activities other than their dominant sports pursuits. It is not necessarily the number of activities in which youth participate, but rather that they have outlets beyond playing sports. For example, one study found youth who participated in sports and school clubs had lower rates of depression than kids who focused exclusively on playing sports. Other studies, like the one highlighted in Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, suggest that children who participate in activities that present real-world challenges, like volunteering in their communities, achieve greater developmental benefits. These activities encourage youth to develop a civic identity and see a world beyond a game of competition.

Playing Sports and the Dilemma for Families

The three positive factors mentioned in the previous section can present dilemmas for families. The decision to play sports with the intensity and continuity required to be highly successful (and possibly earn a college scholarship) must be made with long- and short-term consequences in mind.

To pursue playing sports at the expense of other out-of-school-time activities may not be as developmentally positive for youth. Yet often, the decision to focus on one sport exclusively is fueled by a strong commitment to that activity, one that brings joy and satisfaction to a teenager’s life. It may also be fueled by the needs of parents whose lives revolve around coaching or the internal satisfaction of seeing their child achieve on the playing field.

Whatever the reasons, sports can place a high demand on young people’s time and energy, leading to negative outcomes, including depression and anxiety. Rather than accepting many modern-day youth sports environments that have taken the enjoyment out of playing sports from children, parents and coaches can make a difference.

I recommend parents read the book, “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids,” by John O’Sullivan for additional guidance. John is the founder of Changing the Game Project and a champion for positive youth development through playing sports. You can also watch his informative TEDx Talk on youth sports below.

References

Cooperson, D. (2014). The Holocaust Lessons on Compassionate Parenting and Child Corporal Punishment. CreateSpace.

Holt, N. L. (Ed.). (2008). Positive youth development through sport. New York, NY: Routledge.

Theokas, C. (2009). Youth sport participation: A view of the issues. Developmental Psychology, 45(2), 303-306.

Zaff, J. F., Moore, K. A., Papillo, A.R., & Williams, S. (2003). Implications of extracurricular activity participation during adolescence on positive outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 599-630.

Zarrett, N., Lerner, R. M., Carrano, J., Fay, K., Peltz, J. S., & Li, Y. (2007). Variations in adolescent engagement in sports and its influence on positive youth development. In N. L. Holt (Ed.), Positive youth development and sport (pp. 9–23). Oxford, England: Routledge.

Zarrett, N., Fay, K., Li, Y., Carrano, J., Phelps, E., & Lerner, R. M. (2009). More than child’s play: Variable- and pattern-centered approaches for examining effects of sports participation on youth development. Developmental Psychology, 45(2), 368-382.

(Parts of this article were originally published July 26, 2011. It was updated with the latest research and resources and republished on April 10, 2023.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *