According to the Center for Kids First in Sports, 30 to 40 million children in the United States compete in organized sporting activities. The benefits of participation include increased physical and mental health, healthy competition among peers and the sense of belonging gained by being part of a team. Despite these valid arguments for children participating in sports, there are a number of disadvantages that should be considered. While the overall recommendation is not to avoid participation, awareness can help prevent any undesirable outcomes.
According to the National Center for Sports Safety, over 3 million children under the age of 14 incur some type of injury as a result of sports. These may occur as a result of practice or a competitive event. Broken bones can result from direct impact of a ball or a fall during competition. Injuries such as tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) occur more and more in young athletes due to the rigors of practice and competitions. Repetitive motion sports, such as swimming, may cause injuries to muscles or tendons due to the overuse of specific muscle groups or joints during training.
Unsportsmanlike behavior is modeled in a variety of sporting situations. In both practice and competitive events, children are exposed to other children who may exhibit undesirable behavior. Examples include yelling, cursing or violence in response to self-anger or anger at a referee or other player. In addition, children may witness parents engaging in these behaviors. Children learn behaviors by seeing another person complete the same activity, and therefore witnessing these behaviors may lead the child to mimic these in similar situations. Talk to children about appropriate behavior during practice and games and how to manage anger in an acceptable way such as taking a few deep breaths to relax. Any undesirable behavior witnessed by other players or parents should be discussed after the event. Ask the children to give an example of how that particular individual could have better handled the situation. This gives them an example of proper behavior in case they find themselves in a similar circumstance.
Participation in sports requires a significant time commitment from children. Practices, travel to and from competitions and the events themselves all take time away from children’s daily activities. While exercise is important, these activities should not take away from sleep, meals or school. Find a balance of these activities and avoid placing kids in too many sports and overcommitting their time. Encourage children to study during downtime such as travel or between events or games to ensure school remains a priority.
Young athletes may feel undue pressure from parents, coaches or other players to compete in sports they are not interested in pursuing. Additionally, children may place excessive amounts of pressure on themselves to perform at a level they are not comfortable with. Participation in sports may then lead to a higher level of day-to-day stress that impacts other aspects of their lives such as sleep or school. Help a child through this by speaking to him about his self-expectations, as well as expectations from others, including yourself. Encourage participation and dedication, but listen to children if they feel the pressure is not something they can handle. Seek the help of a sports psychologist who is trained to help athletes deal with these types of pressures in a healthy and productive manner.
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