FROM THE NYU CHILD STUDY CENTER: ASK THE EXPERT
About Kids Who Don’t Like Sports
More than 30 million children and adolescents in the United States participate in group or individual sports. The benefits of sports are numerous: sports are good for physical and mental health, and they promote psychological and academic development. But what about the remaining millions of kids who really don’t like sports? I grew up with two left feet and hated sports. When I became a dad, I realized that I wanted to find ways to encourage sports and physical fitness in my own children in case they inherited my klutziness.
We know that kids need to be physically active every day. On the other hand, kids also need time to rest, to think, to do homework, and to socialize with other kids. Organized team sports appeal to many kids at first, but then a considerable number drop out after several years. Why? Some kids don’t like the competitiveness of organized team sports. They just like playing spontaneously for fun. Some kids don’t want to devote the time and effort. Here are some other reasons kids might be turned off:
“I just can’t do it”—Jeremy, 5
Some kids develop motor skills, such as kicking or hitting a ball, later than others. Also, children under the age of 6 or 7 may not have the attention span or the ability to understand the rules.
“It’s boring”—Jenny, 8
Some children don’t like the rules and time requirements of team sports. Some may be afraid of doing something wrong.
“I’d rather watch TV”—Cindy, 10
Some kids haven’t been encouraged to try different kinds of physical activity.
“I already tried it”—Jimmy, 14
Some kids have already participated in a sport and have not been successful.
“I’m always being watched”—Amy, 14
Some kids feel they’re on display to please other people.
So how can parents find a balance for their kids? What are some other options? Many kids are more comfortable when the emphasis is on individual rather than group effort, as in bowling, golf, swimming, gymnastics, fencing, archery, running, or martial arts. One great favorite is dancing, which most kids love and combines fun and exercise. There are many other ways in which they can join in, get fit, and feel good doing some kind of physical activity. Music and the dramatic arts offer many of the advantages of team sports, in that they require physical dexterity, learning to be part of a team, cooperating in performances, encouraging others, and social awareness.
Tips for Parents
Respect and value your child’s particular abilities and talents. Your child may have preferences and gifts in areas other than sports, such as music, drama, writing, or art.
Realize that free play, child-organized games, and physical education programs in school provide opportunities for physical activity.
Make sure your child is physically and cognitively able to handle the demands of sports. Not until the age of 6 or 7 are children developmentally
ready for organized sports.
Parents and coaches may lose sight of the child’s needs in their own drive for success, and the child may be used to satisfy an adult’s needs.
Stay attuned to the child’s signals. Try to assess whether the child is really interested in the activity or just participating to gain adult approval. Watch for signs that the child may not really be enjoying the sport or experiencing the requirements as stressful. Difficulty in sleeping or eating, or obsessive preoccupation with practice and winning, may be warning signs.
While none of my children are truly athletic, they are all interested and involved in physical fitness and enjoy the camaraderie of sports— playing, not just watching.
This monthly column provides educators, parents and families with important information about child and adolescent mental health issues. Please submit questions for ASK THE EXPERT to Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D., Medical Director at the NYU Child Study Center at glenn.hirsch@ med.nyu.edu. To subscribe to the ASK THE EXPERT Newsletter or for more information about the NYU Child Study Center, visit www. AboutOurKids.org or call 212-263-6622.