One of the issues that comes up often in my practice has to do with boys and girls participating in organized sports. This can occur at a school level of course, especially after elementary school, and also in the community with hockey, soccer and the like. There are many parents who place sports as one of the highest priorities in their kids’ lives, and think nothing of driving them to countless tournaments and practices, sometimes at a frenetic pace. By the same token, there are other parents who place no priority on organized sports whatsoever, and their kids are more free to find other pursuits, including video games and home-based activities.
It is not for me or anyone else, in my opinion, to make a grand statement about the desirability for young people to participate in organized sports. This should always be a decision that fits a particular family, knowing that each is unique and has its own resources and challenges. Nonetheless, it is difficult to ignore the potential benefits that can come from playing organized team sports, and it can truly be a helpful and enriching element of a child’s life, as long as a few important factors are observed and heeded.
- Sports bring an opportunity to create a healthier, more vibrant body and mind. Yes, mind is part of this equation! Regular FUN exercise not only helps to reduce any degree of obesity present or future, but helps the brain to function at its best. When our brains and bodies receive healthy blood and oxygen flow, they are simply more able to work efficiently and properly. The more opportunities we have to engage in active play, including sports, the greater the benefit.
- Being a member of a team can produce a result that is every bit as important: giving a child or teen vital opportunities to develop and refine social skills. This is seen perhaps most critically in learning how to create and strengthen friendships, though sharing laughs, solving problems, and learning what it means to work for the benefit of the group as a member of a team. Remember, kids are not born with social skills, they need to learn them, and team sports can have a healthy role in this process.
- Allow your child to have an active role in seeking out and choosing sports activities to try out. This helps a natural growing need for independence to further develop, and also gives him or her a critical piece of ownership over the activity they will be investing time and energy into. As an added bonus, when a child or teen has helped choose the activity they are far more likely to be excited to participate, as well as more willing to deal with those days when they DON’T want to attend (and these always appear from time to time). Any resistance to attending a soccer practice, for example, is likely to amplified 5 or 10 times potentially when soccer was at its core Mom or Dad’s idea in the first place!
Be mindful also of any hidden dreams of athletic greatness you may harbor as a parent that are sometimes unwittingly transferred to your children. While these are not necessarily good or bad, they can push us as parents to be more aggressive and less able to hear what our children are saying; especially important if it turns out they would like to explore a different activity from what we had in mind for them. My son recently told me he would like to try Lacrosse, despite my own reservations about what looks to be a very rough and intimidating game. Nonetheless, I am choosing to remain open to the possibility in the near future, even if I kind of hope his interests move on and he remains happy playing soccer on warm Okanagan evenings.