Sports for kids who hate sports

By Jody Allard
Originally published at espnW.com

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“Not every child will grow up to be the next Russell Wilson, but most kids benefit from playing a sport and being a part of a team,” Jody Allard writes.

I’ve never been what anyone would call an athletic person. I grew up dancing ballet, but I was determined to encourage my own kids to play sports. The last thing I wanted was for my kids to experience the exquisite torture of being picked last in P.E. or struggle to keep up with their peers who played sports like I had. I wanted my kids to grow up secure in their abilities, and to benefit from being a part of a team. Despite my enthusiasm, it didn’t take long for my oldest son to put the brakes on my athletic aspirations. He dabbled in everything from T-ball to soccer before steadfastly refusing to try another sport.

Not every child will grow up to be the next Russell Wilson, but most kids benefit from playing a sport and being a part of a team. So what’s a parent to do when you know sports can be a great confidence and friendship builder, but your kids want nothing to do with them?

Stop talking and start listening

“When parents listen to their kids, what they find is that the children who don’t like sports had some sort of a bad experience,” said Dr. Kyle Pruett, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University and an executive board member of The Goddard School. “The sport was too competitive, the coach was mean, or they felt that they didn’t have the skills necessary to succeed at that sport. If parents just push and push, all that will do is create negative energy that will then be pushed back on them in the future.”

 

Yet in today’s increasingly tech-focused and sedentary world, it’s more important than ever for kids to get moving. Kids who play sports are more likely to be physically active as adults, and the long-term benefits don’t stop there. “Academically, they develop important social skills such as teamwork, problem-solving skills and emotional regulation that can help them to more effectively take on leadership roles in childhood and later life,” said Randy McCoy, senior executive of product leadership and previous curriculum director of The Little Gym.

Choosing a sport doesn’t have to be a battle. Encourage your child to share their concerns about sports and then come up with a plan together. If your child feels like a part of the decision-making process, they’re more likely to give a new sport a real chance.

Think outside the stadium

It might be second nature for parents to register their kids for sports like baseball, soccer or football, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. When considering which sport might be best for your child, think about their personality. Some kids love to be a part of a team, but they may not be confident in their ability to kick or catch a ball. Look for less common team sports like gymnastics, martial arts or even competitive dance to give your child the benefit of a team sport without relying on the same few options. Swimming, golf, tennis, track and Ultimate Frisbee are other great choices parents don’t always consider in their list of potential team sports.

Not all kids enjoy being a part of a team. If your child prefers to work solo, sign them up for a solo physical activity like rock climbing, skiing lessons, fencing, archery, skateboarding or horseback riding. Exploring a wide variety of activities will allow your child to try new things and (hopefully!) find an activity they enjoy.

Pruett says one of the biggest mistakes parents make is assuming their child will enjoy the same sports they do. Instead of signing kids up for a team straight off the bat, he recommends signing them up for classes at a local community or recreation center that will let them sample five or six sports before settling on one they want to join.

Know when to call it quits

No matter how hard you try, not every child will enjoy playing sports. My son is 19 years old now, and while he has developed a love of watching soccer, he prefers to spend his time computer programming. Some kids are never going to be athletes, and Pruett says it’s important for parents to know when to throw in the towel.

“The number of failed sports attempts it takes to finally give up depends on the child — it could be one, or it could be six,” Pruett said. “If kids aren’t passionate about the sport, or if they don’t look up to someone in the sport, then that’s probably a good sign it’s time to save money, move on and invest in something their child actually enjoys.”

But even if you and your child opt out of sports, McCoy says parents can still make being active a priority by playing games like tag with their kids or taking family walks together through the neighborhood. “Family play sets the expectation that physical activity is a part of life and that adults enjoy it, too,” he said.

Jody Allard writes about parenting, health, and relationships. Her work has appeared such publications as The Washington Post, The Guardian, Time and Vice.