Sports were a big part of my childhood and I’m thankful that my father kept me involved in multiple sports. It wasn’t about me preparing to be a professional athlete. It was more about my physical and mental health and social well-being. My father found ways to make sports fun.
On the other hand, I have some growing to do as far as being a sports dad. We have a daughter who plays basketball and another daughter who does gymnastics and runs track. I’ve come a long way, but there are still times when the emotion of their games negatively affects my mood. Thankfully, my mood is not something that carries on throughout a day. Generally, sports are a positive in our lives.
Today, sports are still a big deal. While the coronavirus pandemic has led to the shutdown of school spring sports and professional sports for a time, there has been a positive in the situation. I haven’t seen so many people (including kids) out walking, riding bicycles, and playing basketball in their driveway in a very long time. It’s a beautiful alternative to being glued to a screen for hours.
Youth sports has a good number of benefits for children, which include:
- Physical activity and health benefits
- Mental health benefits
- Life lessons from winning and losing
- Teaches teamwork (and role responsibilities)
- Teaches the benefits of practice and hard work
- Time management
- Builds confidence
- Teaches respect for elders/coaches/managers
- Improves communication skills
Now, let’s get into five ways to make sports fun for kids.
1. Make practice a game
Practice makes good (not perfect). Showing your child the results they can gain from good practice will teach them the value of work ethic. Good things happen to people who prepare! But practice can be grueling too. And if it’s only grind, grind, grind (especially for little kids) then they could check out. Try gamification. Make practice fun by occasionally making it a series of short games. I love the practice tips given on the Winning Youth Coaching Podcast.
2. Don’t practice too much at a young age
Don’t go overboard with practicing too much at a young age. Working them too hard can wear them out and make them eventually hate the sport. Challenging a child is good but you have to watch the degree of the pushing; and you must make sure they aren’t becoming discouraged. Have you heard the story of Todd Marinovich and how his father pushed him way too hard? The hard drilling got him to the pros but it also eventually led to drug abuse and prison. I know that this is an extreme example, but the story still teaches a good lesson to parents.
3. Be patient with your child
Be patient with your kid. This is where I used to struggle. Understand the stages of development for children. Certain motor skills and mental abilities take time to develop!
If they don’t perform well in practice or a game, don’t crush them over it. Remember what I mentioned above: certain skills take time to develop. And if they never develop, it wasn’t God’s will. They are still your child and you should love them as they are. If you damage a child’s confidence through your impatience, then all the practice in the world won’t matter. Your patience will help make sports low-pressure and more fun!
4. Encourage your child to play multiple sports
I wrote about the comparison between Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in a story about skill diversity. Tiger was coached in golf only and only played golf, while Roger played multiple sports and generally had a more normal childhood. Studies have shown that playing multiple sports better prepares kids for life, future athletic performance, reduces overuse injury risks, and reduces the chance of burnout. The bottom line is to mix it up!
Encourage your child to play or try multiple sports. You might find that they’re better at a sport you hadn’t previously considered. Playing multiple sports during their youth can help your child develop different muscle groups and increase agility. Of course, your child can focus on one or two sports as they get older.
In our case, our older daughter really loves basketball and has expressed the desire to play deep into her future. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a child who really loves one sport to try new things. Thankfully, we’ve been successful in getting our daughter to try tennis and track recreationally.
5. Don’t try to live out your dreams through your child
Don’t try to live out your dreams through your child. This is perhaps the most important tip for keeping sports fun for your kid. Your child is their own person. God created them and brought them into this world for His purpose. If you did or did not achieve success in soccer at a certain level and you want your son or daughter to excel in the sport, the reality is that it’ll only happen if they truly love to play soccer. Loving your child for who they are is the best way to have a positive relationship with them and help them enjoy sports.
I hope these tips will be a blessing to your children and your family. Make sports fun for kids. It will be good for everyone!
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