Little Johnny just started preschool, but he's already being groomed for a career in sports. His parents have high hopes that he will be a star athlete. Preschooler Suzie has been taking dance class since she was barely able to walk. Now she plays little league baseball and soccer, plus she takes a martial arts class and three different dance classes each week. Many young children are involved in numerous activities, and parents are signing them up for sports at younger ages. But how much is too much? Are you pushing your child too hard?
Why Parents Push So Hard
Parents love their children and want to provide them with a rich, full childhood. Parents want their children to have what they may not have had. However, some parents also try to relive their own childhood through their children. Some are competitive and want to keep up or outdo relatives, neighbors or friends. You might know a person like that, or you might even be that person. Consider your own motives. Is your little princess taking tap, ballet and jazz because she wants to or because you're trying to keep up with some other mom? Then there are parents who feel their child will be deprived if they don't provide them with ample opportunities. While those intentions are noble and sports do have benefits, children also need downtime and time for relationships.
Benefits and Dangers of Sports
Organized sports offer benefits such as making sure your child gets exercise on a regular basis. They also provide kids with a way to make new friends and develop skills. Sports teach kiddos how to work together as a team, and most importantly, they can be fun. However, too many sports activities or too much practice while focusing on one sport can result in emotional stress or sports-related injuries. Signing a child up for sports before she is ready may turn her against sports altogether. More children are playing sports at younger ages, and consequently doctors are seeing more sports-related injuries in children. According to KidsHealth.org, young children are more susceptible to injury because they are less coordinated and have slower reaction times. They are still growing and developing.
One Sport or More?
Your child may want to play more than one sport or you may want him to, but should he? While it is good to let your child try a variety of sports to see what he really likes, you shouldn't sign him up for too many at one time. Too many activities at once can be overwhelming for both your child and yourself. Running to practice and other extracurricular activities can be draining for children and adults. It cuts into family time and doesn't give your child time to just be a kid. You're probably thinking, "What do you mean -- be a kid? He's doing all sorts of kid stuff." No, not really. Kids need time to play on their own and with other kids, using their imagination and playing games like tag. Playing one sport exclusively isn't the perfect solution either. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, when play is child-driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest and ultimately engage fully in passions they wish to pursue. It's okay to let your child try a few different sports to see what he likes best. He can even play a couple of sports, but it's best to let him play one sport per season. The AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness warns about potential risks of allowing a child to specialize in one sport at a very early age. Repetitive motion and a lot of training can result in injuries such as tendonitis and stress fractures. Specializing in one sport too early can also lead to lopsided skill development.
Not Every Kid is an Athlete
Some children are athletically inclined; others are not. Some kids simply don't like sports. You may have to come to terms with the fact that your child just might not be a star quarterback. He might not even like football. Not every child is meant to be an athlete. His interests and talents may be in art, music or other areas. Allow your child to have fun and try different activities. If he wants to play a sport, that's fine, but don't push him if he shows no interest. Children that feel pressured into playing sports may suffer from stress. If a child is not athletically inclined, he may feel embarrassed by being put on the spot in front of team members, parents and coaches. He may shy away from sports and other activities. Let him be a child and play in his own way while he discovers his likes and dislikes. His individual talents will surface soon enough.
Don't Push Too Hard or Too Early
Even if your child displays athletic ability that will surely lead her to the Olympics someday, don't push her too hard or too soon. According to HealthyChildren.org, the primary goal of sports for toddlers and preschoolers should be playfulness, exploring and having fun. Competition offers no real advantage to children of these age groups. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research shows that participating in sports during the toddler years doesn't add any long-term advantage for future sports performance. That information may be a shock to competitive parents and exuberant coaches. The point is that pushing kids too hard at an early age to excel in sports doesn't guarantee a professional baseball player. In fact, it may do more harm than good. Exercise is healthy and sports are great fun, but they should never be played at the expense of your child's emotional or physical health.
- Kids Health: Live and Work Well: Is Your Child Too Busy?
- Kids Health: Childhood Stress: Helping Your Child Cope
- National Center for Sports Safety: Sports Training - How Much is Too Much?
- Healthy Children: Ages and Stages: Sports Goals and Applications - Preschoolers
- Psychology Today: Are We Pushing Our Kids Too Hard?
- Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds
- Kids Health: Signing Kids up for Sports: The Benefits of Sports
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images