Childhood sports programs have grown significantly in recent years. Millions of boys and girls are now involved in Little League baseball, youth soccer, community basketball leagues, competitive swimming teams, and similar types of activities. Happily, sports programs are becoming increasingly available for girls, whose need for such activities and whose ability to participate is equal to that of boys. If your own child joins one or more of these programs, he will have a wonderful opportunity for fun and fitness. At the same time, however, a youngster poorly matched to a sports team—or who must deal with unrealistic expectations from a parent, a coach, or even himself—can have a very negative sports experience, filled with stress and frustration.
Before your child enters a youth sports program, evaluate his objectives as well as your own. Although both child and parent may fantasize about using this as a stepping-stone toward becoming a professional athlete or an Olympic champion, few participants have the talent and dedication to reach those heights. Even more modest goals are far from guaranteed: Only one in four outstanding elementary school athletes becomes a sports standout in high school. Only one in more than 6,600 high school football players will ever rise to the professional football ranks.
Nevertheless, there are other, more important reasons for your child to participate in organized sports. Sports can contribute to physical fitness and develop basic motor skills. Also, participation in the sports activity that best suits your child's capabilities can develop leadership skills, boost self-confidence, teach the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, and help him deal with both success and failure. In addition, by participating in sports, children often find exercise enjoyable and are more likely to establish lifelong habits of healthful exercise. However, not all sports meet the requirements for promoting overall fitness. Also, there are many ways for children to be fit and become active without participating in a team sport.
Talk with your child about his interest in youth sports, and what his reasons may be for wanting (or in some cases, not wanting) to participate. His goals may be different from yours. Most children—particularly the younger ones—might say that they simply want to have fun. Others may add that they want to be active and hope to spend time and share experiences with friends. You may have all of these goals, too, along with the desire that your youngster develop an appreciation for sports and fitness.
If either you or your child places winning at or near the top of your list of goals—and if you put pressure on your child to win a tournament or kick a goal—your priorities are out of line. Winning certainly adds to the fun and excitement of sports, but it should not be a primary goal.