Competition Done Right
So you've got a kid who's a sports nut and begging to move up the competitive ladder to the travel clubs. Should you give it a shot? Definitely - there are many social and emotional benefits connected with sports, says Megan Bartlett, director of research for Up2Us, a national coalition working to make sports programs more available to children. Research shows that kids who are involved in sports are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and get involved in gangs, have a later onset of sexual activity, and are more likely to do better in school and have positive peer relationships. Make it a good experience for your child by:
- Choosing a reputable team. Talk to other parents, observe a practice and the coach in action, and check out the team website, recommends Gould. Look for a clearly stated league philosophy and parental code of conduct, and ask how much playing time your child can expect.
- Sticking to a sane practice schedule. The AAP recommends that training in one sport be limited to no more than five days a week-and, frankly, we think that sounds pretty extreme-with at least one day off a week from any organized activity. It also recommends that young athletes take a two- or three-month break from their primary sport each year.
- Steering clear of tyrannical coaches. Many coaches in children's sports leagues are just parents with a passion. They're usually well-meaning, but they don't always have formal training in the sport or in dealing with kids. Never put up with a coach who tells your child to "work through" any kind of pain or who appears to have anything less than your child's best interest at heart. Trust your gut about what feels appropriate, says Gould. Swearing, belittling, sexist remarks, or encouraging cheating never are.
- Putting your doctor on speed dial. Have your child monitored for any sign of overuse injuries and adequate nutrition. Don't ignore any low-grade or joint pain that persists for two weeks-it needs to be evaluated by a physician.
- Keeping perspective. Be positive and supportive, let the coach do the critiquing, and try to ask "Did you have fun?" more often than "Did you win?"
Carol Mithers is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her daughter recently gave up club soccer.