Soccer, lacrosse, baseball, football—getting involved in youth sports is a rite of passage for many children, enabling them to learn physical and social skills on the playing field. Picking the best sport for your child and providing the right level of encouragement can be a challenge, but with a little research, you will find the sports program that best fits your youngster and your family's budget and schedule.
Playing sports has a range of physical, emotional, and interpersonal benefits:
Better vision. Children who spend time outdoors playing, especially organized sports, are less likely to develop vision problems.
Healthy weight. Obesity is increasing in children, but data show that kids who are more active, especially after school, are more likely to be of normal weight.
Motor skills development. Sports participation helps with coordination and learning new skills.
Social skills development. Playing on a team means learning to work with others and support them.
Self-confidence. Success as a team member and an athlete builds confidence.
Sportsmanship. Learning the rules of the game, respect for coaches and referees, and how to stay positive even when losing are all valuable life lessons.
Fun and enjoyment
Choosing the best sports program for your child is easier when he or she already has a passion or a talent for a particular sport. Some communities might only offer a few sports to choose from, but if your town has multiple options or if your youngster is open to trying a new activity, consider first the age and physical ability of your child to decide on a sport.
Next, get the answers to these key questions:
How well organized is the program your child is interested in?
Does the program have a vision and a mission, and do they match your values?
What is expected of parents in terms of involvement?
Are you comfortable with the practice and competition schedules, and do they fit your child's ability?
Do the coaches select teams in a way that you find acceptable?
Is the program safe? For example, is there an appropriate ratio of adults to children? Is the equipment in good condition and is it inspected regularly? Do coaches require warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after games and practices to help prevent injury?
Will any injury your child might sustain need to be covered by your insurance or is insurance is available through the sports program?
It's important to find a sports program that matches your child's abilities. Can your child succeed with the level of competition he or she might face? If your child has special needs because of, for example, ADHD, asthma, or a physical disability, ask if coaches can accommodate these needs. In some communities, coaches are parents just like you, so they might ask for your help and for more information about your child's needs.
You also must consider your ability to support your child's participation. Will you be able to get your child to all practices and games and provide any needed supplies? Being part of a sports team or program has many benefits, but it can also be costly. Your family will need to commit money, time, and resources, such as transportation. If your budget is limited, ask the program organizers if fees can be waived or reduced. You might also be able to borrow equipment or buy gently used uniforms.
Once your child is part of a sports program, always remember that you are an important model for your child. Find ways to stay positive during competition. Discuss any concerns you might have about coaching style, teammate behavior, or other teams in private with the coaches.
What parents usually want most is for their children to have fun and be successful at their chosen sport, but the keys to their enjoying their sports experiences lie in your hands—first by helping them choosing the right sport and then by being a good role model for sportsmanship and commitment.