This article originally appeared in the May 10, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Summer for many families is filled with so many sports events that parents feel like part-time chauffeurs, cheerleaders and coaches. Of course, not all children like to play sports—but all children do need exercise.
Team sports are not for everyone. However, there are many benefits to being involved with them—a boost in self-esteem and coordination, physical activity and real-world experience in teamwork and good sportsmanship. The experience of working together as a team and challenging their young bodies to be active can be difficult to replicate in other ways.
Parents should respect their child’s unique personality and encourage them to pursue activities that interest them. However, it is important that children who dislike team sports have an opportunity to talk to their parents about the reasons why. Oftentimes, a child may be interested in playing team sports but have an underlying concern they are too embarrassed to address.
For young kids, being worried about basic skills could be a cause. Children who aren’t natural athletes might be too shy to learn how to shoot a basketball or hit a baseball in front of their peers. Practicing at home with your child, and helping them develop these skills, may increase their confidence in their own abilities.
When kids are old enough to play team sports, they are also old enough to be aware of differences between themselves and other kids in their age group. A child who is smaller than his or her peers may feel intimidated by playing sports with bigger kids. A larger child may feel intimidated, as well, and worry about standing out. Parents can talk to their kids about these worries and assure them that everyone develops at different rates and that what seems like a barrier at this time won’t always feel that way.
Children who are reluctant athletes may be anxious and feel overwhelming pressure on an ultra-competitive team. Parents can help soothe this worry by talking to the coach to understand their philosophy on their team and coaching style. Older age level sports tend to be more competitive, but many younger teams put more emphasis on learning the game and teamwork than winning. Some teams don’t even keep score at younger age levels.
Parents can gently encourage their child to try a team sport to see if they like it. Be realistic about your child’s abilities when suggesting sports to them. For a child who is timid and afraid of the ball, a sport like running may be a better fit than baseball. A smaller child may find more satisfaction with a sport that doesn’t emphasize height, such as swimming or gymnastics. By considering your child’s abilities and suggesting activities, you increase their chance of success and decrease the possibility of them becoming frustrated and discouraged.
Some kids who are hesitant to do team sports may learn to enjoy them if they find the right team and sport, but some children may never learn to enjoy organized sports. Fortunately, there are many ways for a child to be active and keep their fitness level up.
Kids like this may enjoy more individual activities that keep them fit and moving. Some great examples include swimming, dancing, horseback riding, bike riding, gymnastics, tennis, group exercise classes, roller-skating, inline skating and hiking.
Staying fit and active is important for many reasons, especially as fit and active children tend to become fit and active adults, so parents should gently encourage their children to find the activity that works best for them.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.