When I was growing up, the extent of my athletic experience was whatever they made me do twice a week when I put on my goofy blue gym uniform. I hated it! How times have changed! All three of my children have been involved in soccer, baseball, swimming and Taekwondo. And all three say that gym class is one of their favorite classes. I realize that sometimes it's not easy to get kids to commit to sports activities. But the long-term benefits for your child make it worth the battle.
There are many positive aspects of youth sports. Sports promote teamwork, healthy self-esteem and mastery of skills. Participation in sports also promotes a healthy lifestyle that can combat the TV-computer-couch-potato mentality of many of our children. It's worth the effort to encourage your child to participate in some kind of sporting activity.
Here's a section from my book, Perfect Parenting, that addresses the issues of the reluctant athlete:
Question: My child signs up for athletic lessons and then doesn't like it and doesn't want to practice. After a few sessions, she wants to quit. How do I get her involved in sports, and how do I get her to stay committed?
A. Think about it. You can figure this out by talking to the child, talking to the coach and watching a practice session and a game. There may be more than one reason. Review the solutions below for each reason.
1. Your child isn't skilled in the sport. Often children want to join a team because they enjoy watching the big league games on TV and playing with friends at the park. Once they join a team, however, they find that the game is harder than they thought, and they don't have the skills to play well. Practice - just what the child wants to avoid - is the key to an attitude adjustment. Explain to your child that it takes time and practice to play well and because the session has just started, she must give it a fair chance. Make an agreement that she must do her best for the session (or a specific amount of time). After that point, she can either continue, or stop and try something else. Put your agreement in writing and post it. Often a child can handle an activity for a short specific amount of time, and at the end of the time period has adequate skills to enjoy the sport and can then make a better decision about continuing.
2. Your child is not having fun. Sometimes, the actual involvement isn't as fun as the child imagined. First make sure the coach or teacher is compatible with your child. If there is a major personality clash, it may be worth it to change coaches. If your child is not correctly matched to the skill level of the team, her inability to keep up could prevent her from having fun. If all seems to be okay in these areas, you can build your child's interest by taking her to a professional-level game and to a game involving kids a few years older than she is. Another way to increase your child's commitment to the game is to have enough equipment at home for casual practice, and to take the time to enjoy the game with your child, without the pressure of the formal game.
3. Sport takes up too much time. Most sports activities do require a time commitment from both child and parent. A child who is committed to more than one activity can easily feel overwhelmed. It's usually best to focus on one extracurricular activity at a time so that the child still has some time left over after sports and school for free, unstructured play.
4. Your child feels too much pressure. First experiences with team competition can be difficult for children. It's especially hard if a child is not a great player. One way to remove some of the pressure is to cheer for the whole team, as opposed to the individual in the spotlight, “Go Redwings!” Another method is to focus on effort, skills and technique. “Good swing! Nice try!” If a child doesn't ask for advice about how to play better, don't give any! Leave it to the coaches. Watch how you, other parents, the kids and the coaches respond after a lost game. Look for something positive to say, “What a great effort!” Focus on a few positive details from the game. Find some time to play a casual version of the game at home or at the park so your child can enjoy the process without worrying about who wins.
Make sure you're offering sports that fit your child's personality. Some children are drawn to ‘ball’ sports, such as baseball, soccer and tennis. Others prefer swimming, horseback riding, gymnastics or sailing. Analyze your child's strengths and weaknesses, the things your child enjoys or avoids. Let your child try several different activities until he finds one that suits him. You may have played baseball all through your childhood, and love the game today, but if your child is drawn to swimming instead, open your heart and mind and support the sport your child chooses, while gently encouraging him to try your favorite, too.
Take your child to a few professional-sporting activities of the types you would like him to consider. Often when children see skilled athletes and feel the excitement of the event, they become more interested in trying the activity themselves.
Play sporting games at home or at the park with your child. Often, playing a casual game with the family, without the pressure of a coach or team, can encourage a child to learn a game and enjoy playing it. This activity also gives your child a role model to follow. (It's tough to require your child to become more physically active when your only sports activity is remote-control-lifting.)
Find a sport activity you can enjoy with your child, such as martial arts, swimming or tennis, and take lessons together. Children enjoy the attention from a parent, and will learn to enjoy the sport in the process.
Elizabeth is the author of The No-Cry Solution series of parenting books. Her newest book is The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat - and Eat Healthy. (Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999.) For more information, visit www.pantley.com/elizabeth/.
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