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Choosing the Right Sports for Kids

Which sports should kids play?―or not.

In helping kids to select sports, their personal interests are of primary importance. But other factors should also be considered, including the benefits of individual versus team sports. Despite the absence of scientific research on the topic, some broad and general comparisons can help to guide the decision-making process.

What are the prominent features of team sports?

  • Team sports generally offer more opportunities for learning social skills and making friends.
  • There’s also more need for cooperation and a willingness to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the team.
  • More opportunities exist in team sports to find a niche suited to personal skills and limitations. For example, a youngster with a poor throwing arm can play first base in baseball, and a big youngster with a poor shooting touch can become a rebounding terror in basketball. In contrast, athletes in individual sports, such as tennis, must be able to master all the skills of the sport.
  • Team sports tend to generate more camaraderie, or "we" feelings, than do individual sports. Many youngsters are thus attracted to the sense of belonging that exists in team sports.

What are the prominent features of individual sports?

  • Individual sports generally require more self-sufficiency. The athlete cannot rely on anyone else to take up the slack. Competition takes the form of one-on-one duels, and winning or losing is shouldered solely by the individual.
  • There’s also less of the social support that’s provided by teammates in team sports. This can foster a strong sense of personal responsibility and independence.
  • Because of the above factors, individual sports tend to be more intensely competitive at a personal level and often demand more in the way of "mental toughness." Also, more personal dedication is usually required of the athlete in training.

What about boxing?

Tibor Vegh/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Tibor Vegh/Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Rainer Martens, a sport psychologist and youth sport authority, stated the following: "Boxing should be banned, forbidden, and eliminated forever as a sport for children." I totally agree. Why? It's a sport that includes the goal of harming another person. Reports of 12-year-old boxers, who have registered strings of knockouts, are chilling reminders of the basic brutality of the sport. The harmful effects of concussions are beyond the scope of this blog, but they obviously are a major concern in boxing.

Certainly, I’m aware that some underprivileged youths have found social and economic salvation through boxing. But I don’t believe that boxing in itself offers any benefits that cannot be achieved through other, less dangerous sports.

How many sports should your child play?

For most children, one sport at a time is plenty during the school year. The time and energy demands on both athletes and their parents need to be kept at a reasonable level. During the summer months, multiple-sport participation seems more reasonable. A child may have enough time and energy to be involved in several sports, such as baseball, tennis, and swimming.

Sometimes the best decision is not to participate.

Although youngsters’ participation in athletics is desirable, youth sports are not necessarily for everyone. Consequently, parents shouldn’t feel that their child must be on a team or involved in a sport. For those children who wish to pursue other activities, the best choice may be no sport.

Many parents become unduly alarmed if their child doesn’t show an interest in athletics. They think that a child who would rather do other things must somehow be abnormal. Forcing a child into sports against his or her will is a big mistake. Sometimes the wisest decision is to encourage the child to move into other activities that may be more suited to his or her interests and abilities, at least until an interest in sports develops.

Do you want to learn more about parenting young athletes?

  • The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports is a research-based video that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
  • To access the video, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.