Soccer2If your child has decided that he wants to become involved in a sports activity, he will have to decide which one to select. Of course, he should choose one that he will enjoy; even though your first love may be baseball or softball, let him choose soccer if that is what appeals to him.

Some children prefer individual sports rather than team sports. These individual activities-such as swimming, running, tennis, and cycling-can become lifetime sports, offering enjoyment and health advantages throughout adulthood. Many of these same activities (running and swimming, for example) can provide an aerobic workout too.

If your child selects a team activity, investigate the programs available in your community. There are both contact and noncontact sports, and you and your child should evaluate which is more appropriate for his or her size, interests, and abilities. Many team sports (basketball, soccer) involve at least some contact, although others (T-ball, swimming, tennis) are purely noncontact activities. The nature of how some sports are played changes with a child’s age. For example, soccer for younger children is played without much contact and rarely results in collisions. As a general rule, children up to the age of eight should participate only in noncontact sports; beginning at age eight, contact sports are acceptable alternatives. However, children should not participate in “collision” sports (football, hockey) earlier than age ten.

As you might expect, there is a greater chance of injury in contact and collision sports, but many children still enjoy these activities, particularly if the coach emphasizes participation, not winning. Also, take into account your youngster’s physical maturity. His ability to compete with his peers-particularly in the collision sports-depends more on body size and weight than on age. A late-maturing junior high school youngster, for instance, may have fewer skills and be much more susceptible to injury in contact or collision sports than his more mature teammates and opponents. Do not pressure your child to participate in a sport for which he may lack the proper maturity level. You, your child, and your pediatrician should discuss the most appropriate activities or sports for your youngster, and whether the advantages of a contact or collision sport outweigh the potential risks.

No matter which program you choose, take time to find out about the program’s philosophy before making a final decision. It’s important to understand how the game will be played and what role each member will take on.

Here are some questions you can ask to help you find out about those details:

  • Do all team members get equal playing time? (Studies show that children would prefer to play regularly on a losing team rather than be relegated to the bench of a winning one.)
  • Does the program emphasize mastery of the sport rather than winning?
  • Is each child encouraged to reach his or her own potential in terms of skills development?
  • Are youngsters given unconditional approval, with good efforts praised and mistakes met with gentle encouragement?
  • Is the teaching of good sportsmanship emphasized?
  • Are the needs of the children taken into consideration?
  • For example, are practices at a convenient time and place, and are they limited to a reasonable length of time?
  • Will the time demands prevent the children from participating in other activities and assuming other responsibilities?
  • Are safety rules adhered to during practices and games?
  • Is appropriate equipment available?
  • Are children matched with others of the same size and strength? (This is particularly important in contact sports.)
  • What expenses are involved, including the costs of equipment and travel?
  • What are the expectations and demands on the parents’ time?

Soccer3Also, investigate the coach or coaches for whom your child will be playing. They can serve as important role models for your youngster. They should enjoy being with children and communicate well with them. They should respect each member of the team as an individual, not showing favoritism toward the best athletes on the team. They should be knowledgeable about the game they are coaching, not only in order to help children learn the sport properly but also to minimize the chance of injury. Their practices should be instructive, safe, and enjoyable, and games should emphasize participation, learning, and fun-not winning. Even when their players do not perform up to expectations, the coaches should provide support rather than react angrily.

Keep in mind that responsible parenting involves evaluating your children’s athletic needs and expectations, investigating the sports that are available and which ones are most appropriate for them, estimating the quality of your youngsters’ experience, and deciding whether a particular activity lends itself to a lifelong habit of exercise. Sports are one aspect of your child’s life in which being an active advocate can have big payoffs.


(Adapted from American Academy of Pediatrics)