April 28, 2009
Taking the Pressure out of Sports Part II by Mark Hyman
Finding the Perfect Sport
When you were a kid, sports options were probably few. Now, many schools and community centers offer everything from in-line hockey and fencing to golf and tae kwon do. Overwhelming, sure, but variety can work in your favor. Experts say parents should encourage young children to sample a range of sports to see which ones they enjoy most.
"In the beginning, there's real physical, psychological, and social value in having kids try multiple activities," says Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., medical director of the Hospital for Special Surgery's Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes in New York City and the author of The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor's Complete Guide for Parents. "Physically, children develop different skills, like hand-eye coordination and endurance, and work a variety of muscles. Psychologically and socially, they're seeing firsthand the benefits of individual vs. team activities and they're making friends from different groups," says Dr. Metzl. In fact, research has consistently shown that children's self-image gets a boost when they have positive sports experiences. One University of Washington study concluded that kids who play for coaches who praise their effort often feel better about their sport and more confident about themselves away from the field.
Navigating the Sports Maze
When kids get to be 7 or 8, let them take control. That's the strategy Cobb and Hulleberg use with their boys. "We follow our children's lead," she says. "Our approach is, 'Is this important to you? Are you willing to make the commitment?' If the answers are yes, we do it." Still, experts warn against allowing kids to sign up for too many sports. "Children need to take a break from sports for at least one month out of the year to give their bodies a rest," advises Dr. Metzl.
Suzanne Regan of Bainbridge Township, OH, agrees that choosing a sport became easier as her children developed skills and preferences. Regan and her husband, Sean, let their daughter Kelsey, 14, join a wide range of activities over the years: gymnastics, ballet, softball, soccer, volleyball, and horseback riding. But it wasn't until a few years ago that Kelsey ultimately found her passion: figure skating. "We've never pushed any sport on our kids," says Regan, who also has an 11-year-old son, Jamie, a hockey goalie. "We feel it should be their choice, not ours."
If your child doesn't hit on a sport he's excited about, experts suggest that you try, subtly and creatively, to encourage participation. Take your daughter to a pro tennis tournament when Serena and Venus are in town. Sign the family up for golf lessons so your son can practice his putting and get quality time with Dad at the same time. If these efforts don't spark an interest, drop the issue — without showing your disappointment. And never force your child into any activity. "One of the big problems in youth sports is kids whose parents make them play," says Dr. Burton. "They don't want to be there and they create a number of problems." These children are at particular risk for burnout and poor attendance at games and practices and often engage in disruptive behavior on the bench or sidelines.
Check back next week for the continuation of this great article from Mark Hyman, author of "Until it Hurts".