Parents' Guide: Putting YOUTH Back Into Sports

— Government of Erie County, New York
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Sports are the most prevalent organized after-school activity for 22 million youth ages 5 to 17 in the United States. Another 21 million children are involved in school athletics or organized weekend sports activities.

Sports can be a fun and engaging way for children and youth to learn some important lessons about life. Participating in sports can foster responsible social behaviors, greater academic success, and an appreciation for health and fitness. Participating on a team can also give children a sense of belonging that they need.

In contrast, research shows that a win-at-all-cost atmosphere in a youth sports program is harmful to a youth’s development. In such a situation the benefits that sports have to offer are lost. In addition, negative experiences in sports are linked to low self-worth and fear of failure. Adults involved in youth sports play a crucial role in preventing this from happening.

What can you do as a parent

Respect your child’s need for knowledge.

Take time to learn about youth development. Are your expectations to high? Too low? Your expectations should focus on effort and skills learned rather than on winning and loosing. Are you putting too much pressure on your child?

Be careful not to push your thoughts, ideas, and dreams onto your child.

Make an effort to listen to what your child is saying, and try to meet his/her needs.

Remember that sports are primarily an opportunity to learn and have fun.

Most children will not grow up to be professional athletes as few children possess the talent or desire to play competitive sports at the highest level.

Ask these questions before committing your child to sports.

Mothers are frequently the initiator of a child’s sports experiences while fathers typically influence the type of sport. To choose a sport for your child, parents need to understand their child’s developmental level, interest in a particular sport, skills or talents, and emotional and physical needs. As a parent, you need to raise the following questions before making the commitment to enroll your child in a sports organization or program.

  • How many practices and games per week are there?
  • How long does the season last?
  • Who provides transportation? Is there carpooling?
  • What are my (our) responsibilities?
  • Will my child be penalized for missing practices or games to be on our family vacation?
  • Do practices and game schedules interfere with dinnertime, schoolwork, church, or other events in our family?
  • Does the program have a written statement of goals and philosophy that is available to the parents? If so, are they compatible with my family goals and values?
  • Does the league emphasize giving all children an opportunity to play?
  • Is everyone, including less skilled players, treated fairly?
  • Are the players taught proper sportsmanship?
  • Is the league ultra-competitive? Are children taught to win at all costs or to focus on self-improvement and having fun?

Remember that from 6 to 12 years of age, children should have opportunities to be in different sports. Concentrating on one sport is not appropriate in terms of physical and cognitive development.

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