Keeping Sports Fun for Kids

Generally speaking, the key to keeping children involved in sports is to make it fun. Children who drop out of organized sports do so for a host of reasons, including injury, an over-emphasis on winning, coupled with a lack of fun caused by lack of success or little skill improvement, says Karen Cogan, a sports psychologist at the Center for Sports Psychology in Denton, Texas.

For young children, keeping them involved means avoiding overly competitive situations and practicing “sports generalization.” Dr. Thomas Roland, a pediatric cardiologist who is on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee for Sports Medicine and Fitness, says studies have shown that when kids participate in many different types of sports, injuries are reduced and they tend to stay involved longer. Once children get older and start concentrating on a particular sport (usually from 11 years old onward), parents have to monitor them carefully for the red flags that might indicate injury:

• consistently playing through pain or injury,

• pain or injury altering the way the child plays,

• inability to recover from nagging pain or injury.

But parents also need to check that they are not having a negative impact on their kids’ enjoyment of sports. Parents may be doing just that if they notice the following:

• They are overly concerned about the outcome of the competition.

• They spend a lot of time talking to the coach about skill levels, how the coach conducts training, etc. (i.e., trying to coach through the coach).

• Their child asks them not to attend competitions or practices.

• If they frequently require their child to attend extra practices or do extra training.

Parents can appropriately help their children by encouraging them to focus on improving their own performance goals (rather than winning per se) and by emphasizing fun and skill development.

And most of all, try to keep the sport in perspective: remember, it is children’s experience of the sport that matters, no matter what their parents’ hopes and dreams are.

Also in this series:
Is Sportsmanship Dead? The Impact of Parents' Behavior on the Sidelines

Curbing Bad Behavior on the Sidelines

The Sport Parent Code of Conduct

Are You a Bad Sport: A Quiz for Parents