Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Perfect Gift: Putting the "Kid" Back in Youth Sports: In an Age Where Seven- and Eight-Year-Old "Travel Teams" Are Chosen and Play Full Schedules ... It Is Important to Listen to Our Own Children and Watch for Clues That Are Given off by the Child Warning Us of the Need to Back Off

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Perfect Gift: Putting the "Kid" Back in Youth Sports: In an Age Where Seven- and Eight-Year-Old "Travel Teams" Are Chosen and Play Full Schedules ... It Is Important to Listen to Our Own Children and Watch for Clues That Are Given off by the Child Warning Us of the Need to Back Off

Article excerpt

Much has been talked and written about the right age to begin youth sports and the direction parents need to take when dealing with youth sports in general. As a high school athletic director, I see many examples of kids specializing in a particular sport, or quitting when they reach high school age because of a variety of reasons. As I look back on my own childhood, we "played" every day. Almost all the kids in the neighborhood joined in, whether it was baseball, basketball, touch or tackle football, tag and yes ... even hide and seek. No one bothered us. We made up teams, argued about things, patched things up quickly and moved through our younger years playing and having fun. It was "kid directed." We played because we wanted to have fun and be with our friends.

WHY YOUR CHILD PLAYS SPORTS

When children are surveyed about why they participate in sports, some reasons given are: "I want to have fun," "I want to be with my friends," "I want to try something and see if I like it." Notice that winning is not part of the discussion. College scholarships are not there either. The truth is that those things are the last things on a kid's mind. While one- to two- percent of high school athletes earn college athletic scholarships, the fact is that there may be a better chance to go to medical school than there is of playing college and pro sports. The simple facts are that youth sports should create an environment of fun, physical activity and sportsmanship that a child may draw a wealth of positive experiences from. The other aspect that is vital in child development is learning to lose. All adults know that you don't "win 'em all." However, the ability to get up off your feet when knocked down, or in other words "resiliency," may be the single best lesson that youth sports teaches, Victory is temporary while learning to fight through adversity lasts a life' time.

In an age where seven- and eight-year-old "travel teams" are chosen and play full schedules, often crossing over into other sports seasons, it is important to listen to our own children and watch for clues that are given off by the child warning us of the need to back off. Is there "downtime" for a kid to just be a kid? Do we need this kind of pressure for our children? Is it healthy?

A PARENT'S EGO AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT

Are you cultivating a child for a sports career that he or she may not want or be ready for? I often tell parents a good gauge for involvement is to ask yourself, "Am I this much involved in their English or math class?" Probably not. Yet, a parent will aggressively yell at youth coaches, referees and even kids to get their point across about some part of a game or practice. Recently, there were brawls at youth football games with parents from both teams leaving the field under arrest. I wonder if those same parents would be so incensed at their child missing a match problem in class.

Children develop different skills at different age levels. Sometimes, adults are simply asking too much from children whose motor skills may not be ready to tackle the physical skill necessary to participate in a particular sport. Motor skills are continually developed as children grow. My son teaches elementary physical education and tells me all the time about the wide differences in skill development from grade to ' grade. …

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