Youth Sports: Choosing the Right Sport for Your Child

Getting your child involved in youth sports can be exciting and a little bit stressful. We are eager to see them active and enjoying their time on the playing field, but we worry. Will they enjoy it? How will they perform? Is this the right sport for my child? Despite what many of us might think, kids don’t come from the womb knowing they want to be a football MVP or track star, or even knowing what sports they want to play. As parents, it’s our job to expose them to and encourage them to play a variety of sports without pushing our own agendas or creating undue pressure to choose one sport over another.

It’s a balancing act and a lot easier said than done, particularly for those of us who played sports at a higher level. Even fond memories from our own youth sports experiences can be enough to torque up the enthusiasm a little too high. After all, we just want our children to enjoy the same success and sense of comradery that we did, and maybe (just maybe) we’ll get to relive some of those glory days along the way.

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

Get Moving Early

It’s always good to get your child moving early, starting with easy activities that aren’t difficult to master like throwing and catching, kicking a ball or swinging a bat. Once your child reaches age 6 or 7, they are physically and mentally ready to begin participating in organized sports. Studies have shown that participating in youth sports helps kids to maintain a healthier lifestyle and has social benefits as well.

Find the Right Fit

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

  • If they haven’t expressed an interest in a particular sport, talk to them about the various options in your area. Sometimes having a buddy playing the same sport is all the encouragement it takes.
  • Begin their exposure with less competitive sports. Try to find a youth sports program that allows kids to rotate through several different sports, giving them the opportunity to learn the rules and try out the equipment before having to commit for an entire season. If you live in the Crofton, Maryland area, Athletic Performance, Inc. (API) offers their All Sport Kids Academy to children ages 3-8. They play soccer, tennis, baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball and more with age appropriate rules and instruction. They work on motor skills and coordination with an emphasis on fun and sportsmanship. There’s greater focus on sport-specific skills as the kids get older.
  • Talk to your child and find out what he likes. Observe his strengths and weaknesses with any physical activity. Does he have good hand-eye coordination? Is he competitive and driven to succeed or happier cheering from the sidelines? Is he happier doing things on his own rather than in a team environment?
  • If the team environment isn’t a good fit, try some individual sports like tennis or swimming. If ball sports aren’t your child’s cup of tea, perhaps martial arts or dance will be. Whatever your child’s personality, there are lots of sports option. Children are usually drawn to sports they feel they are good at.
  • Be sure to choose the appropriate level of competition or frustration can set in. Competing against older, more experienced athletes can make anyone want to throw in the towel. By the same token, if your child shows a natural ability for a sport, a lack of competition at the recreational level may quickly become tiresome.
  • Whatever your child’s ability level, be supportive of their accomplishments regardless of how big or small. Children pick up on even the smallest cues.
  • Be patient. There are plenty of professional athletes who admit to being pretty bad at their chosen sport in the early years. Becoming good at anything takes time.

Know When to Step Back

If you get repeated push back from your child – refusal to participate, disinterest, expressed dislike for practice or games—dig a little deeper. Sometimes there are other issues at play. As a parent, you’ll need to encourage your child to keep playing or decide if and when it’s best to move on to something else. And it can be a fine line between supporting them and forcing them to do something they don’t enjoy.

Taking the time and patience to help your child find the sport or sports that are a good fit for his skills and personality can take a little time. Let your child be the guiding force. In the end, you’ll both be happier for it.

Playing Sports Helps Kids Do Better in School

There’s little doubt that playing sports helps kids stay physically fit, fight obesity, and make friends, but can it also help their grades?  You bet it can.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conducted research to investigate the link between physical activity in children and their academic performance in school.  The study examined 214 middle schooler who were randomly assigned to take a physical education class during the first or second semester of the school year. Researchers collected information on each student's activity level during and outside of PE class, and compared their activity levels to their grades in four academic subjects:  math, science, world studies and English.  At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the moderate activity provided by PE class for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week did not influence grades.  But, the study showed that those students who were more active and participated in vigorous physical activity for 20 minutes 3 days per week, did perform better in school.  For most of the participants who exercised vigorously, this was through participation in sports outside of school such as soccer, basketball, football, baseball, and softball.

The ACSM study is just one amongst a huge body of research on this topic that consistently concludes exercise indeed provides an academic boost.  Kids who are more physically active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and do better on standardized tests than their less active counterparts.  Scientists suspect that being more active improves blood flow to the brain, providing more oxygen to the cells responsible for learning and attention.  Exercise can also increase certain hormone levels, improving overall mood and combatting stress, both of which make for a better learning environment.

The benefits of playing sports go well beyond just fitness and good grades.  Athletes are better able to concentrate during class, have fewer behavior problems, improve their motor skills and self-esteem.  Participating in sports teaches kids about cooperation, teamwork, and makes them learn about rules and how to act appropriately in social settings.  All of this translates directly into the classroom, resulting in students who follow classroom rules more diligently and get along better with fellow classmates and teachers.

In older children, playing sports teaches them time management skills as they balance the demands of school with practice/game schedules.  Studies have shown athletes are less likely to smoke or engage in drug use than non-athletes.

Getting your child involved in sports has far reaching effects, even into adulthood.  Sports are an easy answer to helping your child boost performance in the classroom.  But even non-athletic children achieve the same benefits of physical activity with non-competitive activities such as biking, swimming, jogging, dancing or playing games like tag.

How Playing Team Sports Can Make You a Success in the Boardroom

More than a few parents have dreamed of their child going on to be hugely successful by playing professional sports. From the first time they tied the laces on their cleats, tossed them a basketball, or helped them oil their first baseball mitt, visions of the NBA, NFL, or MBL draft danced in their heads.  And while that’s not realistic for all but a very small portion of the population, going on to become successful in a career as a result of playing youth team sports is.

Remember that book that came out a few years ago “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”  Well, it turns out, everything you need to be successful in the boardroom you learned while playing sports.

Did You Know:  95% of Fortune 500 CEOs participated in athletics/sports in high school.

That’s an impressive statistic.  Also, a recent Cornell study shows that past participation in competitive team sports gives you a leg up in the competition for better jobs.  Even if you weren’t team captain or you mostly sat the bench, experts recommend you include high school sports experience on your résumé for the duration of your career.  Employers and co-workers expect former student athletes to possess greater leadership ability, more self-confidence and self-respect when compared to those who didn’t compete in varsity high school sports.

About the study’s results, Cornell researcher Brian Wansink said, “Something very special happens on scholastic playing fields and tracks and basketball courts. Student-athletes, whether or not they are captains or leaders of their teams, are exposed to leaders in an environment that rewards transformational leadership. The focus in youth sports is on prosocial traits: respect, trust and confidence. That experience spills over wherever their adult lives take them.”

If you want to help your child be successful professionally, sign him/her up for youth sports!

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