My kids are all grown up now, but from talking to friends and colleagues with younger kids, it’s clear that youth sport has gotten too serious. Children compete too much and too soon. They specialize too much in sports when they are too young, then burn out and stop loving the sport. You spend too much time doing the same thing with the same movement patterns. It monopolizes whatever free time the kids (and the rest of the family) have. And, perhaps most importantly, the parents are too busy.
But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Children love to play sports and need to move their bodies.
The basis of all human movement is play – engaging in a wide range of spontaneous moments, reacting to new situations as they arise, combining movement with inner reward and joy and pleasure. The problem is that the classic childhood culture of free play, by which children historically (and prehistorically) developed their ability to move through physical space and engage with the physical world, is disappearing from neighborhoods. Often the only chance a child has to exercise is by joining a competitive youth sports team.
So how can you make it work without getting out of hand? How can kids play youth sports without burning out, getting hurt all the time, and hating what used to be fun?
Keep it fun.
They “play” sports, remember? To play. Playing is fun. It’s happy. When you enroll your child in a legitimate youth sports recreational league, make sure the focus is on having fun. This can mean calling the coach and talking about his philosophy and goals for the kids.
Don’t criticize them on the drive home. Don’t bother them by missing a play or shot. When they start dreading going to the gym, when they start making excuses for not going today, listen. withdraw. Make it easy for them. Let her play sports. If you ruin the sport, you potentially ruin the idea of gaming altogether.
Delay the competition for as long as possible.
A story as old as time is the child who, at age 5, takes up a sport—maybe it’s wrestling—gets a knack for it, loves it, and soon starts competing. He wins a few tournaments, does well, wins more than he loses, but by the age of 10 or 11 he lost interest. The sport he loved became a chore, a job, a source of stress and pressure. 10, 11, 12 year olds aren’t meant to handle the kind of stress that comes with a sport they’re supposed to love.
Meanwhile, those children who enter a particular sport at age 12, having spent their younger years constantly playing and trying out a range of new sports, are involved in competitions at a higher level. There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve experienced this time and time again.
Let them decide to compete.
The will to compete must come from within. The human child is a complex being that is still in the prime of development. Grabbing them mid-development and throwing them into a sport and saying, “Okay, now go compete at a high level” is interrupting a potentially tricky growth process. Humans are naturally competitive, but this competition comes up at different times in different children. Rushing it could “spoil the batch,” if that makes sense. As with cooking, you have to stick to the recipe.
Well, if they want to compete but resist when the moment comes, you should push them. Poke her in. That’s just the pre-game nervousness. As long as they made the initial decision, you can help them stick to it.
Don’t be the trainer (unless you are the actual trainer).
Often a parent is the coach for the youth sports team. If that’s you, be the coach. Be the trainer by all means. It’s your formal role. But don’t be the parent who yells from the sidelines. Don’t be the training dad who shouts tips and adjustments at your child and goes beyond the trainer. Don’t mix worlds.
Consider an “exercise” discipline instead of a sport.
When children are young and looking for a physical activity, consider an unconventional alternative to classic sports.
A gymnastics and tumbling class at the local recreation center. A parkour or ninja workout at the local movement studio. Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, or any other grappling martial art that lets kids roll around, explore dozens of different joint types, and “rough” in a safe and controlled manner. Swimming is a legitimate sport, but a season or two of swimming can prepare you for life with strong skills. No need to compete with it.
This will give them the ability to move well, express their physical potential through time and space, make friends, build their stamina and stamina, and prepare them well for any traditional sports they might want to try in the future.
play with balls
Keep some balls indoors and play with them with your kids.
Play catch. Start with easily predictable throws and then move on to making them responsive to unpredictable throws. Dribbling with feet and hands. Dribbling unconventional things, like tennis balls. Transferring it to a basketball or soccer ball is tremendous and makes it a lot easier. play dodgeball. The classic schoolyard game, now banned or severely neutered in most schools, taught millions to dodge, contort, catch, and throw with great power and accuracy.
Just carry a ball around and feel comfortable with it. Throw it up and catch it as you go. Throw it while watching TV. Idle play to make it a part of you.
give them their space.
Unless you are dealing with really young kids who still need their parents moment to moment, I would recommend that you take your child to exercise and find something else to do for an hour. If you want to watch, do it from a distance where they can’t really see you. Don’t focus on training. What you will find is that if you are right on the sidelines, children will constantly beg you for approval. They scan your face for disappointment or happiness. You do not want that. You want your kids to fully immerse themselves in the game and do it for themselves – not for you.
Let the field or the annulus or the track or the square be their space that they learn to own. Think of it as a little taste of separation.
Everything works as long as they move.
Variety is the spice of movement. There are hundreds of sports, physical activities and skills
A sport is not even necessary. There are:
dancing archery martial arts hunting boxing parkour gymnastics fencing horse stuff climbing/bouldering
Just to name a few.
Choose leisure leagues over travel leagues.
At least if they’re on the younger side, a more casual rec league makes more sense for most kids than a serious year-round travel league. It doesn’t take all of your time. It is not year-round, so your kids can try different sports all year round. It’s not that expensive – you don’t rent hotels and you don’t spend money on planes and gas. It’s not that competitive and serious, which can force your child into bad patterns – both physically and psychologically.
You can always move up into the travel league if your child expresses interest and has what it takes. But choose leisure leagues if possible because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to return once you’ve decided to travel.
Play multiple sports.
The number one problem with the. I grew up playing every sport outside with my friends, roaming around the neighborhood to pickup truck games, and getting into trouble just about everywhere I went. That made me the man and athlete I am today. I can do a lot of sports and I can still move quite a bit because I grew up with everything. If that idyllic childhood experience is no longer available to your kids, at least you can help them achieve the same results by letting them play multiple sports instead of focusing on one. This also distributes the “load of movement” to different tissues that might otherwise become overstressed and injured by repetitive movements.
As they get older they can specialize in whatever they want, but the best foundation for an athlete is to play it all.
They can try anything and quit if they don’t like a particular sport or physical activity – but they have to choose a different one. You must always try.
Ask yourself, “Who is it for?”
Do you encourage your child to exercise for his or her benefit?
Now there is an argument that they may not know the benefits of the sport. Sport can have many long-term benefits: the friendships you make, the skills and athleticism you develop, the camaraderie, the pressures you endure, how you learn, the joy of victory and the bitterness of defeat curb These are all genuine considerations that the average 7-year-old with an average time horizon doesn’t factor into their decision of whether or not to play.
However, these benefits are more likely to materialize if the child genuinely enjoys the sport. Pushing him or her against their will makes them less likely to collect those positive lessons down the line and more likely to resist them.
These are the things to keep in mind if you want to make your child’s youth sports league experience the best, ideal, and most importantly, fun.
Take care of yourselves. I would like to hear your opinion on youth sport.
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather of the primal food and lifestyle movement, and New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, in which he explains how he combines the keto diet with a primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which in 2009 is credited with accelerating the growth of the Primal/Paleo movement and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark founded Primal Kitchen, a real food company that sells Primal/ Paleo, Keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen clips.
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