Organized sports are becoming more and more a part of American childhood, with an estimated 35 to 40 million children ages 6 to 18 taking part in team sports and other recreational activities. All over the country, kids are donning uniforms and heading to fields, rinks, courts and pools — with parents in tow.
Overall, this is good news. With the rise in childhood obesity, the need for exercise is even greater. Organized sports offer a chance to learn teamwork and sportsmanship, meet new friends and connect with other families in the community. Here's how to make sure organized sports really are a good thing for children both physically and emotionally.
Every activity carries risk and sports are no exception, but most sports injuries are preventable. Here are some injury-prevention tips adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics to keep kids out of the doctor's office.
We've all seen those parents yelling at their child from the sidelines, or read in the news about parents assaulting coaches and officials. We tell ourselves that we'd never be like that. But it's all too easy to start comparing your child to others, or pushing a child just a little too hard.
Parents usually do it for the best of reasons: They want their child to succeed. But if your child is unhappy, success isn't going to mean much. Sometimes parents push their children in the hope that they might get a college athletic scholarship, or even become a professional athlete. While some kids are indeed very talented and having a dream is great, the statistics are sobering: Only about 1% to 2% of high school athletes get Division I or II scholarships. Even fewer make it to the professional level. Are those odds worth stressing your child out — or endangering your relationship with him? Probably not.
Here are some general guidelines:
Early "specialization" in a particular sport is becoming more common as well. Parents should be wary of this. Research shows that young athletes who participate in various sports have fewer injuries and play longer than those who specialize before puberty.
If, however, your child has truly fallen in love with a sport, here are some suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help prevent overuse injuries — which account for 50% of sports-related injuries — and burnout:
With the right perspective, and the love and common sense that are crucial in all aspects of parenting, organized sports can teach wonderful lifelong habits — and build wonderful lifelong memories.
Claire McCarthy, M.D. is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Boston, and medical director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, a neighborhood health service of Children's Hospital. She is a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications.