Extracurricular Activities for the Athletic Child
Physical activity is certainly something that is very important for children to have on a regular basis. Soccer, football, baseball, wrestling, karate, tennis, dance, gymnastics, etc. are all great ways to keep your child involved and active. With the growing list of sports or activities that children can be involved in, parents are asking the question, where do we begin? How do we know which sports are a good option for our child? While there is no finite science to determining the answer to this question, allow me to share some thoughts that might help you make an informed decision.
Not all sports are created equal and neither are the kids that play them.
Different sports require different skills and its important to recognize which skills you child might or might not possess. Let me give some examples that you might find helpful. If you have a little girl who is petite, timid, and absolutely hates getting dirty, signing her up for the local football team is probably not the best plan. Likewise, if your son is interested in self-defense, doesn't mind contact, and is confident enough to participate in a solo sport, maybe karate is a good option. Putting your child into an activity that doesn't align with their gifts could cause them stress or even injury.
My experience was this:
When my daughter was four, she was a tiny thing who wasn't overly energetic and, might I add, still isn't. While I wanted her to try out soccer with others who were starting at that age, I also recognized that she was one of the smallest kids in the group. Quite frankly, I was concerned that she could get hurt starting at such a young age. After some consideration, we decided that it wouldn't hurt to wait a year and give her a chance to grow. When she did start playing soccer at age five, she thrived and I was so thankful that we waited.
Fast forward a year when my son was turning four years old. He was one of those kids who ran everywhere and when he was still, you knew he was sleeping. In fact, his name is Chase and I used to joke that all we did was chase Chase. He played hard and he slept harder. He build was somewhat more robust than my daughter and he was strong. When it was time for soccer sign ups, we didn't have to think twice. This kid was destined to play sports that used up his energy. While he wasn't an aggressive kid by nature, he loved running to beat someone else to the ball. He was ready and, to this day, we still love to watch him play.
Being in sports don't have to mean joining a team.
As a parent, you will notice if your child is cut out to be part of a team or whether an individual sport may be a better option. Just like adults, we aren't all cut out to be part of a team unit. Some of us feel more comfortable not relying on others for our success. Karate, swimming, and gymnastics are examples of more individually focused sports. If you have a kiddo who is extremely self motivated and doesn't mind practicing independently of instruction, ask your child what he or she would like to try. The other advantage to individual sports is the flexibility it adds to your schedule. Instead of conforming to a schedule that meets the needs of many, you can enroll your child in a program that meets your needs.
Leadership makes all the difference.
Probably one of the most important pieces of having a successful athlete in your family is having an awesome coach. Coaches can make or break a sports season. Maybe you have even been asked to volunteer for your child's local sports team and you are wondering what I am talking about. Let me explain. A coaches role is to guide, motivate, and challenge young athletes. Coaches that do anything less than that should probably find a new place to spend their time.
Here's an example of why a quality coach is so important.
Let me share another example of how coaching affected my children first hand. My daughter has had the same soccer coach since she began playing four years ago. In the beginning, her coach was fun and gentle with the girls, but as they got older, his tone got increasingly more intense. About half way through last season, my daughter started having stomach pain during her soccer games to the point where she would begin crying and sometimes get physically ill. I took her to the doctor and we tried some different control methods, but we couldn't figure it out. Before long it occurred to me, that she was only getting sick on days when she had a game or practice with one specific coach.
Wondering what exactly was triggering her spells, I started observing her coach's interactions with her and the other girls carefully. That's when it hit me. "Seriously girls! That's the best you can do?" "Wake up and run to the ball." "You're a waste of space." "If you aren't going to play, then sit on the bench and I'll put somebody in who cares about winning." Oh yes. Those were some of the things I heard being shouted and at my child and others on the team. I don't think the coach realized how he sounded. If he did know, he was probably repeating things that were said to him at some point in his life. Regardless, it wasn't appropriate and we needed a change. By the season's end, she was convinced that she shouldn't play at all and she wasn't going to play next season.
We finally figured it out.
It wasn't until several months later that she finally put words behind what her sick belly was telling us. When we attended my niece's soccer game, which was coached by my brother, my daughter came and sat next to me. "Mommy," she said, "why couldn't my coach talk to me like Uncle B talks to his players? Uncle B doesn't say mean things and his girls are really good." There is was. My kiddo began hating a sport because she had a coach who, instead of encouraging and motivating, berated and belittled. Unprompted and without question, she described to me why she started hating playing ball because of one coach.
Stay in tune with your kids and make sure their coaches are appropriately speaking to them. I would highly recommend that any parent of an athlete or anyone who acts in a coaching capacity read the book "Playing It Forward" by Timothy Law. Tim is a coaching expert and has a wealth of experience in the sports realm. His book is full of stories and examples of what makes a great coach. We will have a future blog with more from Coach Tim. Not all athletes, my children included, are going to the big leagues. However, having quality leadership certainly can go a long way.
Overall, sports are a great activity for kids.
While academics will always trump sports in my house, I still think there is great value in keeping kids active and getting them involved in extracurricular activities. We can help you find the right fit for your child so be sure to check out our huge list of possibilities. When it comes to team sports, make sure you let your parental instincts lead the way. Find the right sports at the right time for your child. Decide whether a team sport is best or whether an individual sport would better suit your child. Lastly, keep the coach in check. Make sure he or she is doing things correctly. And when you are the one in the bleachers, always, always cheer your babies on!