Navigating the Sports Maze
When kids get to be 7 or 8, let them take control. That's the strategy Cobb and Hulleberg use with their boys. "We follow our children's lead," she says. "Our approach is, 'Is this important to you? Are you willing to make the commitment?' If the answers are yes, we do it." Still, experts warn against allowing kids to sign up for too many sports. "Children need to take a break from sports for at least one month out of the year to give their bodies a rest," advises Dr. Metzl.
Suzanne Regan of Bainbridge Township, OH, agrees that choosing a sport became easier as her children developed skills and preferences. Regan and her husband, Sean, let their daughter Kelsey, 14, join a wide range of activities over the years: gymnastics, ballet, softball, soccer, volleyball, and horseback riding. But it wasn't until a few years ago that Kelsey ultimately found her passion: figure skating. "We've never pushed any sport on our kids," says Regan, who also has an 11-year-old son, Jamie, a hockey goalie. "We feel it should be their choice, not ours."
If your child doesn't hit on a sport he's excited about, experts suggest that you try, subtly and creatively, to encourage participation. Take your daughter to a pro tennis tournament when Serena and Venus are in town. Sign the family up for golf lessons so your son can practice his putting and get quality time with Dad at the same time. If these efforts don't spark an interest, drop the issue -- without showing your disappointment. And never force your child into any activity. "One of the big problems in youth sports is kids whose parents make them play," says Dr. Burton. "They don't want to be there and they create a number of problems." These children are at particular risk for burnout and poor attendance at games and practices and often engage in disruptive behavior on the bench or sidelines.