by Suzanne M. Anderson, MSS According to John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game these are the five most important words parents can say to their children about their sports activities. John also shares the following statistics about youth and sports. Every year 40 million youth play sports. 70% of these youth drop out of sports before they reach high school. Sports participation provides physical, mental, and psychological benefits including protection in dropping out of school, becoming involved in drugs and alcohol, while encouraging excelling in academic performance and social engagement. Health Fitness Revolution identifies the top benefits of sports participation.
Stronger bone and muscle development that helps protect from injury.
Aids in weight control through regular activity.
Improves endurance, which in turn supports heart health.
Provides an environment to develop character such as teamwork.
Boosts self-esteem both through being part of a team and having a positive view of their health and body image.
Provides opportunities to learn perseverance both physically and mentally.
Teaches self-discipline through requiring control and self-restraint.
Provides guidance and role models through the coaches and other adults involved and studies have shown that youth with mentors are less likely to skip school or take drugs.
Teaches healthy competition and good sportsman ship.
Healthy competition is a debated topic with some saying that youth sports have become too competitive. However, I think we must honestly ask ourselves have the kids become too competitive about their sports or has that been fuelled by the adults—the parents and coaches. Several studies have investigated why youth play sports. Repeatedly the number one reason was “to have fun.” In the same study “winning” didn’t even make it into the top 10 reasons why kids play sports. Other top reasons for playing included:
Doing something they are good at.
To improve their skills.
To stay physically fit.
To get exercise.
When youth were asked to define fun in a George Washington University study, youth described fun as “trying their best, being treated respectfully by coaches, parent, and teammates, and getting play time.” Winning was listed #48 on a list of 81 characteristics of fun. And why do three out of four youth stop playing sports by the time they are 13 years old? Sullivan argues that kids the common thread through all of the reasons that kids quit sports are related to “having a poor state of mind related to sports.” Based on his experience there are five reasons kids leave sports:
It is no longer fun.
They have lost ownership of the game to coaches and parents.
They don’t get the playing time they want.
Kids are afraid of making mistakes and being yelled at, corrected and benched.
Kids are feeling disrespected.
So what’s the solution?
Make sure your child is having fun! Check in. Ask them.
Let your child set goals and find their passion for playing. Don’t set it for them.
Make sure your child is on a team that plays them.
Allow your kids to fail. Acknowledge a pro-social response to failure.
Respect the effort and risk-taking it takes to play sports.
Most importantly, make sure they know you love watching them play!