As parents, we each develop our own play book. There are some things we are adamant about, some things we encourage, some things we discourage, and some things we just let go. For me, some of the MUSTs are: always use manners, be honest, try your hardest, and play a sport. That last one is where I lose a lot of supporters. I ran a poll on the Wondermom Wannabe Facebook page a while back and most people stated that they don’t require their children to play sports or a musical instrument (another must in my house). While most parents didn’t discourage these activities either, not many people felt as strongly as I did that they should be integral to a child’s upbringing. So, today I won’t try to persuade anyone, but I would like to explain why I make my kids play sports so that perhaps some might see the merits.
Healthy Habits Are Established Early
Research has proven that our health habits are established during childhood (Psychology Today, NIH, FamilyDoctor.org). Once these habits are well established, they are VERY difficult to change. So, if you don’t establish a habit of physical activity for your children, the likelihood that they will get sufficient physical activity as adults is very slim. Not all children are natural athletes. My younger son tried a variety of sports since his small stature, lack of speed and awkwardness made him a poor fit for many “popular” sports like soccer, football, and basketball. He ultimately found his niche in martial arts where he could advance at his own pace. My goal isn’t for my children to become Olympic athletes; it’s for them to develop a habit of making time for physical activity.
Your child’s self-esteem is built through achievement (KidsHealth.org). You can tell your child he or she is amazing, but it will be the accomplishment of goals that makes him or her believe it. Sports are an excellent way for your child to build self confidence through achievement. Every new skill, successful maneuver, goal, hit, or win helps build up esteem. Through sports, children learn that practice and hard work can help them reach their goals (Working Mother). Also, simply being fit is a source of confidence for many individuals. Finally, the foundations of self-esteem are laid between the ages of 6 and 11 (Psychology Today), the ideal time to introduce children to new sports since in most sports these are the instructional, rather than competitive, years.
Of course, not all of your child’s sports experiences are going to be successes. Fortunately, our children learn just as much from a poor performance or loss as they do from winning. If you present sports as recreation, for the purpose of developing healthy habits, it becomes a safe zone for experiencing setbacks or failures. Your child will learn to overcome obstacles and be resilient so that when faced with hurdles in other areas of greater significance (e.g. school or relationships), he or she will be better equipped to handle them.
Improve Social Skills
Even individual sports take place in teams (e.g. wrestling, swimming, running). At school, children are grouped primarily by age and academic level. In sports, they are usually also grouped by age but also by a specific interest (e.g. soccer). This is a great way for your child to connect with others based on a common interest. Also, I’m a firm believer that the more social settings one experiences, the better developed their social skills. Being part of a team helps your child learn to rely on others and to understand their own value to others.
Though I require each of my children to participate in sports, they are each free to choose what sports they want to participate in. My oldest son is the wrestler; my oldest daughter, the gymnast; my younger son, the martial artist; and my youngest daughter plays a new sport every season. In our family of “athletes” each of them has their own area of strength and it carries over to their personalities (or perhaps their personalities influenced their athletic choices). My wrestler is mentally tough and fiercely loyal. My gymnast is hard-working and precise. My martial artist is the most self-assured and pensive. And my little one is a social butterfly with many interests. Their sports choices match their unique personalities and provide them a different avenue to express themselves.
With so many different sports to choose from (soccer, tennis, football, lacrosse, track & field, basketball, swimming, dancing, gymnastics, martial arts, golf, and horseback riding just to name a few), it’s easy to find at least one physical activity that a child would enjoy. Though I don’t expect everyone to require their children to join a sports team, I do hope that after reading this post you might be encouraged to at least share the idea with your child or perhaps play some sports recreationally as a family. There is so much to gain!