Youth Sports: Are the Kids Really Having Fun?
by Rick Alan
Children's sports can start out as an enjoyable activity and turn into an overly competitive chore that is not fun for far too many kids.
American Academy of Pediatrics Report
Pointing to the increasing pressure and competition involved in children's athletics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents do not push children to specialize in one sport, at least until they reach adolescence.
"Kids should be encouraged to be more physically active—to get away from watching too much television and sitting in front of the computer. Organized sports can be an excellent way of doing so. However, organized, competitive sports for young children can also have its down side," says Tom Rowland, MD, a member of the AAP's Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
In making its recommendation, the AAP cited research showing that young children who participate in a variety of athletic activities and delay specializing in a particular sport until adolescence tend to:
Positive Steps for Parents
In some cases, parents pressure their children into playing sports and having a "win at all costs" attitude. This type of pressure, though, takes away the many benefits of participating in an organized sport, like being part of a team, exercising, competing, and having fun.
There are steps that you can take, though, to highlight these benefits:
Instead of having your child specialize in one sport, encourage him to participate in various sports and/or athletic activities.
Evaluate the Benefits and Potential Harm
Consider a series of questions to help determine whether your children's athletic activities are beneficial or harmful:
Here are other tips:
Evaluate the Coach and the League
Make certain your child's coach and league are creating a safe and enjoyable atmosphere. Ask yourself the following questions:
If you discover that a coach or league is violating any of the above ground rules and safeguards, speak to the coach or supervising organization about the problem and, if possible, offer to help. If, after doing so, the problem is not solved, remove your child from the situation and find another team or league.
Show Good Sportsmanship Yourself
In addition to coaches, parents must practice good sportsmanship and acceptable behavior when watching their children participate in sports and athletic activities.
American Academy of Pediatrics
National Alliance for Youth Sports
Public Health Agency of Canada
The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Intensive training and sports specialization in young athletes. Pediatrics. 2000;106:154-157.
Parenting my champion: getting started. Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University website. Available at: http://www.educ.msu.edu/ysi/parents/USTA_parent_checklist.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2011.
Last reviewed October 2011 by Brian Randall, MD