Is Your Child Not Getting Kicks from Team Sports?

Parents have been game to ask me what to do if their child does not appear to be interested in playing team sports when most other children their age are expressing this interest.  Well let me step up to bat and provide some information on this topic.

While team sports can help boost a child’s self-esteem, coordination and general fitness, as well as teach them how to communicate and work well with others, some children may simply say they don’t like team sports.       

If this is the case, the first step is to try to figure out why your child feels this way. For example, it may be because your child is too young to have the physical skills or attention span needed to grasp the rules needed to play a team sport (which normally occurs at ages 6 or 7 years), thus frustrating a child who cannot do what their peers can do.  If your child has not had much practice in a specific sport, such as kicking a soccer ball or hitting a baseball, they may become frustrated in an actual game.  The solution is to be supportive and practice with your child at home where your child can try and even fail on a task without the peer pressure of friends seeing them learning – not to mention it provides great parent-child quality time.

If the coach is too focused on winning versus having fun and teaching fundamentals, this too may discourage a child.  The solution: investigate the sports program in your neighborhood and talk with coaches and other parents before you sign your child up.  Competitive play should really not be an issue until age 11 or 12, or too many kids may opt out and not want to play if they find themselves on a competitive losing team.

Just because you loved a particular sport doesn’t mean your child will love that same sport.  If you find your child doesn’t want to play a sport you loved, see if there is another team or individual sport that they might be interested in doing.  The child who may not have great hand-eye coordination to hit a ball may turn out to enjoy swimming, skating or cycling without needing to be on a team. 

It’s also important to remember that just because your child doesn’t like a team sport at a younger age doesn’t mean they won’t as they get older.

Finally does not playing a team sport mean your child can’t find other ways to stay fit?  Not at all.  Your child could do a variety of other activities to stay fit, such as engaging in 60 minutes of active free play daily by playing at a playground,  or doing household tasks with you such as walking the dog, or even working in a garden and/or  raking leaves in the weeks ahead. 

Hopefully tips like this will provide some active solutions when it comes to helping your child stay active, even if he or she doesn’t want to play a team sport. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids