Team sports can boost kids' self-esteem, coordination, and general fitness, and help them learn how to work with other kids and adults. But some kids aren't natural athletes and they may tell you — directly or indirectly — that they just don't like sports.
Not every child has to join a team, and with enough other activities, kids can be fit without them. Here are some reasons why sports might be a turnoff for kids:
The child is still developing basic skills:
Though many sports programs are available for preschoolers, it's not until about age 6 or 7 that most kids have the physical skills, the attention span, and the ability to grasp the rules needed to play organized sports. Also, kids who haven't had much practice in a specific sport might need time to reliably perform necessary skills. Trying and failing, especially in a game situation, might frustrate them or make them nervous.
- What you can do: Practice with your child at home so you can give your child an opportunity to build skills and fitness in a safe environment. Your child can try and fail without the self-consciousness of being around peers. And you're also getting a good dose of quality together time.
The Coach or the league is too competitive
A kid who's already a reluctant athlete might feel extra-nervous when the coach barks out orders or the league focuses heavily on winning.
- What you can do: Some kids may be motivated by competitive play, but most aren't ready for the increased pressure until they're 11 or 12 years old. Investigate sports programs before signing your child up for one. Remember that even in more competitive leagues, the atmosphere should remain positive and supportive for all the participants.
The kid has stage fright
Kids who aren't natural athletes or are a little shy might be uncomfortable with the pressure of being on a team. More self-conscious kids also might worry about letting their parents, coaches, or teammates down.
- What you can do: Keep your expectations realistic. Let your child know the goal is to be fit and have fun. If the coach or league doesn't agree, it's probably time to look for something new.
The kid hadn't found the right sport yet
- What you can do: Be open to your child's interests in other sports or activities. By exploring other options, you give your child a chance to get invested in something he or she truly enjoys.
Different kids mature at different rates, so expect a wide range of heights, weights, and athletic abilities among kids of the same age group. A child who's much bigger or smaller than other kids of the same age may feel self-conscious and uncomfortable competing with them.
Kids also might be afraid of getting injured or worried that they can't keep up as overweight or asthmatic kids for instance.
- What you can do: Give some honest thought to your child's strengths, abilities, and temperament, and find an activity that might be a good match.
Remember that some kids will prefer sports that focus on individual performance rather than teamwork. The goal is to prevent your child from feeling frustrated, wanting to quit, and being turned off from sports and physical activity altogether.
Fitness Outside of Team Sports
Even kids who once said they hated sports might learn to like team sports as their skills improve or they find the right sport or a league. But even if team sports never thrill your child, there's plenty a kid can do to get the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
Free play can be very important for kids who don't play a team sport. What's free play? It's the activity kids get when they're left to their own devices, like riding bikes, jumping rope, or dancing.
Kids might also enjoy individual sports or other organized activities that can boost fitness, such as:
- horseback riding
- dance classes
- inline skating
- martial arts
- yoga and other fitness classes
Try to remain open-minded and work with your child to find something active that he or she likes. You'll need to be patient if your child has difficulty choosing and sticking to an activity. It often takes several tries before kids find one that feels like the right fit. But when something clicks, you'll be glad you invested the time and effort. For your child, it's one big step toward developing active habits that can last a lifetime.
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