I posted here a while back that my 13-year-old daughter had tried out for -- and made -- the school basketball team. I had my reservations about it, considering that she's just under five feet tall and had never played basketball before. But I kept those reservations to myself as I watched her work hard to make the team.

Now, mid-way through the season, I've watched her blossom. She's played a team sport for years -- fast-pitch softball -- but basketball is different. In yesterday's game, she fouled someone for the first time ever. And I was proud.

See, basketball is teaching her that if you want the ball -- if you want your shot or want to help your teammate get hers -- you have to go after it. You can't hold back because you're afraid or because you're worried about what other people will think of you. It's also teaching her that there are boundaries and when you cross them, there's a price to be paid.

Valuable life skills, no?

I'm a big advocate of sports for all kids, provided that the kid gets to choose the sport and that parents let the kid's passion guide his or her involvement -- no living vicariously through your kid, please. For some kids, though, sports and physical activity are about shame, humiliation and not living up to somebody's expectations.

Don't be that parent -- ever. And don't be that coach.

A new study by the University of Alberta published in Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise found that a "negative lifelong attitude towards physical activity can be determined by either a good or a bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor."

Billy Strean, professor at the University of Alberta, offered these tips for coaches, teachers and parents:

  • Put the attention on fun
  • Use sports to help kids connect with friends and learning
  • Minimize the attention on outcomes

Also telling was Strean's finding that study participants had better experiences from "minimally organized" games, such as street hockey. It turns out that kids get a lot from pick-up games that don't involve adults.

What matters, in the end, isn't whether kids win or lose, come in first or make the all-star team. What matters is that they learn the capabilities and strength of their bodies, how to work with others and that fitness is fun.

Those are lessons that last a lifetime.

About the Author

Dara Chadwick

Dara Chadwick is the author of You'd Be So Pretty If… :Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies—Even When We Don't Love Our Own.

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