Should I Encourage Team Sports for My Kids?
I’ve been thinking about getting my kids involved in some kind of outdoor athletic activities – perhaps a soccer team for my daughter and Little League baseball for my son. What do you think children gain from participating in sports? What factors affect a child’s success in athletics? And what are some of the pitfalls I should try to avoid as a parent?
You’ve asked some great questions, and I want to congratulate you on taking the initiative to give your kids a gentle nudge toward activities that will take them outside and provide them with exercise and fun. My personal feeling is that active participation in well-organized and appropriately supervised team sports can benefit children on a number of different levels.
To begin with, sports promote a spirit of social interaction, cooperation, and friendship. The experience of working together with others as part of a team teaches kids a wide variety of practical lessons that they later can apply to almost any endeavor they choose to undertake. Sports also help kids to think critically and solve problems. They foster self-discipline and trust, promote respect for others, and encourage the development of character, leadership qualities, and coping skills. That’s not to mention that organized sports have also been shown to improve academic and occupational outcomes, lower school dropout rates, and deter delinquency.
In most cases, athletic success is a direct result of individual inclination and aspiration. Not everyone is cut out for the same kind of activity. If you want your children to excel on the field, start by asking them about their dreams. Encourage them to try lots of things. Then wait and see what really lights their fire. Be observant. Look for evidence of the talents with which God has gifted them.
In our family, we’ve always encouraged our kids to participate in the process of choosing a sport or activity on the basis of their personal preferences. Then, as we move through the process, we give them the freedom to alter course when and if it seems like a good idea. For example, my son tried tackle football and discovered that he simply didn’t like it. Not on any level. So we shifted him into soccer. It wasn’t a question of “quitting.” It was just a matter of changing direction. And it proved to be an important factor in strengthening his motivation to succeed.
You are on target, of course, in supposing that there are some dangers and pitfalls to be avoided. In particular, you need to be very careful to check your own motives. Don’t push kids into the kinds of activities you might enjoy out of a desire to live through them vicariously. Don’t yield to the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” Above all, resist the temptation to become overly involved in your children’s sports by holding them to unrealistic expectations or stressing the importance of success and “winning” all the time. This can place undue pressure on children to go beyond their God-given capabilities, and this in turn may have a negative impact on their self-esteem.
Whatever you do, bear in mind that it’s all about the kids and it’s all about having fun. Sports can be a good vehicle for teaching strong values, but it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep things in perspective. My rule of thumb is that every parent-child relationship has to be based on unconditional love and acceptance. Kids desperately need mom and dad to be their biggest cheerleaders, affirming them when they succeed and encouraging them when they fail.
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