A Childhood Without Sports: How Bad?

Filed under: Opinions

"Sports are not for every child," says a mom next to me on the playground bench, as her son watches a ball whiz past him and roll to a stop in the sandbox. "What if a child is simply disinclined to be competitive? And why..." she leaned in closer and switched to a stage-whisper, "do his other relatives act like this is a betrayal against the boy's very core?"

Besides, the mom confesses, she was concerned that not being good at sports would make him feel ashamed on the field. Truth be told, she doesn't want him to play. But sports teach children so much about teamwork, sportsmanship ... is it bad if a mom really doesn't want her child to participate? And if so ... how bad?

To find out, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take on the situation.

"I think there's a real value in playing sports," Tobey says. "If you have an active child, recreational sports can be a great way for them to expend all that energy."

"Children need to run and laugh and play," Tobey adds.

So true, I thought, reflecting back to last weekend morning when our children, tired of being cooped up in the house, got busy giving new definition to the term "bouncing off the walls."

And there are other benefits to sports, as well, Tobey says. "There is a lot to be gained about learning about teamwork and helping children understand how children can work together to accomplish a common goal. Sports give children the opportunity to think beyond themselves, to find out how their actions affect others."

So, team sports are all good. With a caveat.

"I think the problem comes when we start to pressure our kids to be successful athletes and the child doesn't share that goal," Tobey said. "If a child gets in a situation that is more competitive than they are comfortable with, it might not be a good fit for them. It's like putting a 5-year-old into 8th grade -- not comfortable."

Here are Tobey's ideas for encouraging a reluctant athlete:

Give it a try. "Kids don't have to be amazing at something to play it," Tobey says. "They may make different friends and learn different skills. Oftentimes, children don't know what they like yet; an 8-year old doesn't have a lot of life experience. He might get on a field and love it, he might hate it."

Be supportive. There's a difference between encouraging a child and making them feel stressed about how they perform, Tobey notes. "You can help them know that their value is not depending on whether or not they succeed in the game."

So what do you do if they aren't doing so well? "First, compliment the skills they are learning, point out what they are doing well already," Tobey says. "Then you can encourage them to continue to strive to put in their best effort -- and if they are doing that already, tell them so."

Know when to quit. What if a child hates a sport and wants to quit? Do some investigating, Tobey advised. "Listen to your child and then ask yourself: Will it damage him to stay in? If the answer is no, consider helping him find ways to enjoy it more. Ask your child if he likes the league and if the answer is "yes, but..." try to find out if there is a detail that you can change, or try a different league ... or a different sport." That said, there are times to quit a sport, Tobey notes.

"There's always the opportunity for bad things to be going on, so your first job is to listen, witness, use your best judgment and of course to protect your child."

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at PrincessLPink9@aol.com. She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

Related: More How Bad?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.