Sports and Kids: Pathway to Healthy Development or to Unhealthy Competition? (page 2)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

What factors affect a child's success in athletics?

Self-selection is important. When children choose on their own to participate in a sport their motivation to succeed is strengthened. Also important is how the child views competitiveness; is winning everything or just a detail of the game? Support and positive reinforcement from family, peer group, teachers and coaches can help a child to develop a positive sense of self in sport participation. Warm, positive, effective coaching and parenting contribute in a big way to kids' motivation and success. Making sports fun with measurable outcomes, like skill development, builds toward success.

What if a kid doesn't want to join a team?

Organized team participation isn't for all children; there are many options. Children can be encouraged to play more individually based sports such as tennis, swimming, bowling, gymnastics, self-defense sports, and many other activities. Respect and support children's interests in other areas, such as music and other arts, but encourage them to be physically active.

Is there a downside to children participating in sports?

Parents should be sure that their child's sports program and equipment are safe and age-appropriate. Four million children seek emergency-room treatment for sports injuries every year; another 8 million are treated for such injuries by family physicians. Parents should also keep in mind that organized sports participation should not begin until age six, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Until that time unstructured play is recommended. Further, overuse injuries are increasing in children who play the same sport year round. Some softball/baseball players play more games as children than professionals do.

Are there pitfalls that parents should try to avoid?

Parents can become overly involved in their children's sports and have unrealistic expectations for success. Some parents, unwittingly or intentionally, transmit the message that winning is all-important. In reality, it's the skills and teamwork that are the most important for children. Parents can help balance their children's lives so that they don't become overly involved and neglect other areas of their lives.

What are some trends in children's sports participation that are of concern?

There's cause for alarm in several areas, in and out of schools. In schools, there's been a drop in the number of students enrolled in daily physical education classes, so that one in four children do not attend any school physical education class. Seventy percent of children drop out of organized sports by the age of 13. Nearly half of young people ages 12 through 21 and more than one-third of high school students do not participate in any vigorous physical activity on a regular basis. Fewer than one out of four children get 20 minutes of vigorous daily exercise. The percentage of overweight young Americans has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

What are the costs of physical inactivity?

Physical inactivity exacts a huge toll. It was estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide in 2000, and 10 to 16 percent of cases each of breast cancer, colon cancer and diabetes. In the United States, inactivity contributed to an estimated $75 billion in medical costs in 2000 alone.

How should a parent evaluate the pros and cons of sports for kids?

The benefits of sports outweigh the negatives, so it's the responsibility of parents, schools and others involved in the lives of kids to help make sports a successful and pleasurable experience.

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About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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