By: Tiana Woolridge, MD, MPH
Participation in sports has clear benefits for children's health and development. Sports can help improve concentration, reduce anxiety and boost self-confidence. However,
organized sports can also lead to stress and challenges that can be harmful if a child is not prepared for it.
If your child is going to participate in sports, you can help them by practicing these important mental skills:
Sports can provide an emotional outlet for some children. But organized athletics can also bring about difficult emotions such as frustration, anger, anxiety and sadness. Children can experience these emotions before, during or after competition. All young people need to learn how to recognize these emotions and how to manage them without causing harm to themselves or others.
Participating in sports can help build a strong sense of identity. That's great, but a child's identity should not be based solely on their role as an athlete. Building a positive sense of
self-esteem that includes but is not limited to their performance as an athlete is crucial. It's especially important when a child is unable to play sports (for example, due to season- or career-ending injury).
As a parent or caregivers, you can help affirm and nurture all aspects of your child's identity. Remind your young athlete that their self-worth does not come from their performance in their sport. Children need to know that a bad game does not mean that they are a bad or worthless person.
Competition by nature involves experiencing highs and lows, wins and losses. Young people must learn to set goals for themselves. They also need to feel motivated to continue to work towards those goals, even when the outcome of their game or competition is not what they wanted. Participation in youth sports should not focus solely on winning. Be sure to elaborate and encourage your child when they work hard, help others and make progress towards achieving their goals.
Check in with your child frequently to ensure that they are developing these positive mental skills. It may be helpful to discuss how their role models or favorite athletes demonstrate these skills. With the right guidance and supervision, participating in sports can be a powerful support for lifelong physical and psychological well-being.
About Dr. Woolridge
Tiana Woolridge, MD, MPH is a resident physician and incoming sports medicine fellow at UCLA. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.