Making Youth Sports Fun Again for Kids

Thousands of children participate in some sort of organized sport, whether it is school-related or on an independent team. Kids as young as 4 are now playing organized soccer and baseball. However, with the pressure to succeed put on children so early, there are many people who wonder if the benefits of youth sports participation outweigh the negative aspects.

Consider these myths and revelations:

Myth: My child should play sports -- and begin early -- because he or she could eventually earn a college scholarship.

Fact: According to research by the National Center for Educational Statistics, fewer than 1 percent of the kids participating in organized sports today will be good enough to land a college scholarship. There are very few young athletes who will go on to be the Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Michael Jordan, and Venus Williams of the future. Putting stock in youth sports simply for the fame or fortune it may bring is being short-sighted and frivolous, say experts.

Myth: Winning is important, and it's good to teach kids early on to strive for success.

Fact: Various studies show that 73 percent of kids quit their childhood sport by age 13 because it ceases to be fun. Pressure from coaches and parents simply doesn't make it worthwhile for kids to play any further. Children should be encouraged to play for the fun of it, and not for the potential trophies and medals they could win.

Myth: Youth sports is all for the benefit of the children.

Fact: Research conducted by the National Alliance for Youth Sports has found that one-quarter of adults have witnessed a physical confrontation involving coaches, officials or parents at a youth sports practice or game. If sports participation were all about the kids, why would adults find themselves in such an uproar about rulings and what's going on in the field or on the court?

With these clarifications in mind, parents, coaches and caregivers need to discover how to make sports fun again for children and motivate them in positive ways. Here are some of the better-known benefits of sports participation:

* learning to play collectively with a team

* physical exercise

* problem-solving and forming strategies

* social interaction

* stress release

* overcoming challenges through practice/discovering personal strengths

A child should never be forced to participate in a sport, but encouraged if this type of activity seems like the right fit for him or her. If a child does decide to participate, motivation should not come from adults in the way of undue pressure, belittling or physical confrontation. Positive reinforcement does wonders. Compliment the child when he or she has done well, but don't punish when the reverse happens.

If a child is not connecting with a particular sport, enable him or her to choose the activity that may be a better fit. It's only through experimentation and practice that some children find the right activity or team for them -- and it may not be the game their parent played while in school.

Parents should regularly attend games and practices to see how player-coach interaction unfolds. Physical or verbal altercations should not be tolerated and do not motivate players in a positive way.

By making changes to the way adults view youth sports, there is the greater likelihood for children to enjoy themselves for the love of the game.

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