Finding the Right Sport for Your Child

By JCC Sports Coordinator and Coach Wendell Lee

The sports activity and clinic season is upon us, and it’s that time of year when many parents are faced with scheduling activities to keep their children busy and active during the afternoons and weekends.

Youth sports cover a wide range of activity and choosing the correct mix for a child is not a one-time event.

For some first-time parents selecting the right activities will be a process fraught with angst and indecision. Just remember, says JCC Sports Coordinator and Coach Wendell Lee, “There is NO single right way. There is no roadmap for your child or children. Activities that may be vital and sustaining for one child may seem restrictive and suffocating for another.”

The Associated recently caught up with Coach Lee:

What do you hope a child will gain through participation in youth sports? Here, the range of responses is wide open – from the parent who is focused on working towards a scholarship for their child to play a sport in college – to the parent who wants a fun and regular place for their child to exercise and develop a love for being active. At the youngest ages, determining what is the right sport can be the toughest question.

Most parents tend to steer their children towards the sports that they enjoyed during their childhood. This predisposition allows a parent to guide and assist the child with a modest degree of skill, knowledge, or expertise. The crucial and elusive factor is finding the right balance.

The trick is to be open and listen to each child as they will often tell you the direction that is of interest to them. Once you’ve considered your response to “what will my child gain through participation…”, the difficult process of finding the right program begins.

Coaching children as young as two years old through grade 8, I have a keen sense of the challenges parents face. Once you have a clear vision of what you want, the selection process will become a breeze. Current experts cite the significant benefits of youth sports participation as:

• Socialization
• Health Benefits
• Structure
• Life’s Lessons
• Enjoyment

Once you targeted the benefits that you would like to acquire for your child, move in that direction.

A big question that seems to be impacting participation in Youth Sports is individual versus team sport participation. Learning to work as a member of a team may be the single most significant skill that you can provide for your child. Remember that a family is a team in many aspects and teamwork is essential to a family’s success.

Lastly, you are the adult, and your child needs you to make these decisions as part of their developmental process (although they may state otherwise). They are not yet equipped to know what is best for them in the long term.

Choosing a program? Age, cross-referenced with developmental readiness, is probably the most influential matrix in this decision-making process. Talk to other parents about their experience with the program. Then determine your goal. I believe that skill development is better for younger children to help them gain confidence and competence to meet challenges that winning and losing ultimately demand.

Finally, check out the coaches. Ask yourself, “what is their philosophy or experience with children at the age in question?”

Give participation a solid commitment.

If your child isn’t happy with their first experience (i.e. Soccer is not the right fit), how do you encourage them to try something different? At the earliest ages, I am fortunate to coach multi-sport introductory clinics for children ages 3 to 5. What I’ve learned is that 6 months or even a year has a huge impact on what the children in the middle of the Bell Curve are interested in or capable of doing. That said, if it isn’t a good fit today, it does not mean it will not be a good fit in the next few months. Give participation a solid commitment.

What are the advantages of participation in youth sports? Let’s look at this question in a completely backward manner. What are the disadvantages of your child trying a sport? Although I love scientific reasoning, I am not going to list the health or mental benefits of sport activity in this post. Involvement in sports or really any youth activity is going to come with a price for parents.

• Sport activity can take time away from a comfortable time in front of a screen.
• You may need to do additional laundry each week.
• Your child may meet new children that do not live in your neighborhood or go to their school.
• You may have to drive a distance at an inconvenient time to participate in a specific program.
• It may be a sport that you did not play as child or know much about.

In short, whether it is a sport, hobby, or creative endeavor working towards a goal to develop competence in any activity is a process. When you think you’ve got it headed in the right direction, your child may want to change. There is nothing wrong with that.

Being active, engaged, and present is the true benefit of all competitive or non-competitive youth activities. We often don’t realize how many of Life’s Lessons are learned through interactive play or exploration.

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