My kids are at an age where the after school sports schedule has reduced me to a drop off and pick up coordinator. I have snacks in the car so they can fuel up on our way to practices. Many days the only way dinner gets done is if it was put in the slow cooker at the start of the day. Our Saturday mornings start in the gym with girls’ basketball games and end at the little league field. On days when the kids complain, watch out. I’ve been known to go on a rant, which ends in me asking myself why I’m doing this and whether it’s all worth it. The good news is, IT IS. There is one caveat though. Children can derive tremendous benefits from playing sports and from healthy competition …. IF the parents do it right. I asked clinical psychologist Abby Brewer-Johnson to share 5 simple guidelines parents can follow so kids get the most out of youth sports.
LET YOUR CHILD CHOOSE THE SPORT I learned this lesson the hard way after my husband and I coerced our 10-year-old into playing club volleyball. Since she’s tall, we figured it would be the perfect fit. It took an expert to tell us that her near panic attacks when it was time to practice were huge red flags that we were pushing her to play something she didn’t want to. Brewer-Johnson says, “Give your child the freedom to pick their own sports while also taking responsibility for their choices and decisions related to that sport.”
ALLOW NATURAL CONSEQUENCES Letting your children chart their own course makes it easier to hold them accountable. “Let children know the responsibilities involved in being part of a team, which means they are responsible for going to practices and also for supporting their teammates,” says Brewer-Johnson. “When they fail to do these things, allow them to face the natural consequences of their decision; this means dealing with the disappointment of their teammates, failing to do well at their next competition and discussing it with their coach.”
DON’T BE THE BAD GUY Amen to this! Brewer-Johnson says you shouldn’t be the one to monitor or admonish your child for not going to practice. “However,” she says, “You can remind them of the consequences of their decision not to go. This can include that you are unwilling to continue to pay for coaching or participation in a sport if they do not show commitment to that sport and responsibility to their teammates.”
IT’S OKAY TO LET THEM PLAY HOOKIE …OCCASIONALLY Should you let your 10-year-old skip practice in favor of something fun, like a play date? Absolutely. As Brewer-Johnson reminds us, we all need this from time to time. I love her advice on how to do it though, so you can still allow for natural consequences and not become the bad guy. Brewer-Johnson gives parents this advice, “Allow children to make a practice schedule and decide, in advance, how many days they are comfortable attending or missing and for what reasons.”
FOCUS ON FUN FOR KIDS UNDER FIVE How darn cute is that cluster of 4-year-old boys and girls running in unison toward the wrong soccer goal? There are benefits, other than the amazingly cute photos you’ll have for their scrapbook, to playing sports at a young age, but not competitive sports. Brewer-Johnson says, “Children under five can be taught the importance of practicing, effort and participation but never cajoled or admonished for not doing so. The focus should always be on making friends, having fun and learning how to cooperate with others.”
For more on Dr. Abby visit her website.