Should I Sign my Kid up for Sports?
As a new school year begins, so do the opportunities for organized sports. Golf, volleyball, soccer, tennis, cross country track and football teams have already started practicing in the middle schools, high school, and community recreation programs. Basketball, hockey, wrestling, and eventually baseball and track & field will follow (I know I’ve left out some important sports, but I can’t think of them all right now). The question is, should your child play organized sports? Could it be helpful, or what if it’s harmful?
The answer to whether it is beneficial for your child to play organized sports is “it depends.” It depends on at least three different things; the child, the parents, and the sports program. Some children have a natural ability or talent in certain areas (i.e., strength, speed, agility, coordination) that makes them a natural good fit for certain sports. Other sports, such as swimming, require that the child learn a particular skill before they can really be part of the team program. So if your child doesn’t have any clue what sport he or she wants to do, observe them and see what they are naturally good at doing. Pick a sport that plays to their strengths and they will be more likely to enjoy and excel in it.
What depends on the parents is whether you are an encouragement or a discouragement to the child’s enjoyment of organized sports. We’ve all seen parents who believe they are an encouragement to the child, but when you see the child’s reaction its plain they are NOT being encouraged. The parents who are yelling at their child to do this or that on the field and who get upset if their child is not a natural athlete right at that moment are clearly a discouragement. The goal of organized sports, from the time of ancient Greece, is to “strive together” towards mastery – the competition pushes each individual towards personal excellence in a way often not attained on one’s own. Therefore, parents should encourage good sportsmanship over the win/lose mindset. Winning is great, but it’s equally important for the child to learn how to be a good team player; able to encourage himself and others on his team towards excellence. The parent is important to the child learning this valuable life lesson.
Good sports programs, from a social and psychological point of view, are ones that encourage all kids to excel based on their skill level. Programs (whether community or school-based) that offer a wide array of sports to choose from is best and school systems should be encouraged to offer as much as possible. The benefits of offering a good sports program are evident in the research. Interscholastic sports (in middle, junior high and high school) have been established in the public schools since the 1950s. Research has shown that students who engage in interscholastic sports have increased fitness (Fox, 1998). In an era when obesity is the number one health concern for our children, cutting sports programs that children can choose from would not be very wise. Furthermore, students who participate in organized, school sponsored sports programs generally have higher self-esteem and score higher in tests of competency (Harter, 1993). Academic success is more certain for children who are on sports teams (Gerber, 1996). Middle school is a time when self-acceptance is strongly tied to peer approval and acceptance. Research shows that students who participate in interscholastic sports experience greater positive recognition by their peers (Hawkins, 1992).
Organized sports, as positive as they can be for most people, are not for everyone. I think most kids should at least give organized sports a try. If your child does not enjoy it at all, or seems to be suffering emotionally/socially due to sports, then you should seriously consider allowing them to withdraw from the team. Your child should not, however, resign themselves to a sedentary lifestyle because they don’t play team sports. There are plenty of physical fitness activities they should be encouraged to try, as this will also produce increased personal confidence and self-esteem. This could be skateboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, running, you name it. As long as they are striving towards personal excellence and getting their blood pumping it’s going to be helpful!
Fox, K., R., (1988). The self-esteem complex and youth fitness. Quest, 230-246.
Gerber, S. G. (1996). Extracurricular activities and academic achievement.Journal of Research and Development. 30, 41-50.
Harter, S., (1993). Causes and consequences of low self-esteem in children andadolescents. In R. f. Baumeister (Ed.), Self-esteem: The puzzle of low self-esteem. NewYork: Plenum Press.
Hawkins, R. (1992). Athletic investment and academic resilience among AfricanAmerican females and males in middle grades. Levin College of Urban Affairs. Cleveland, Ohio.