“My child plays lacrosse, basketball, volleyball and soccer” beamed a mom I recently met, “How about your kids?” she asked, curiously. “We don’t do team sports”, I replied, feeling a bit awkward.
Team sports are a fixture of North American culture and often touted as important part of childhood experiences. Team sports can positively contribute towards building community, cooperation, problem-solving and leadership skill. They can also help combat childhood obesity, improve child eating habits, improve mental health and reduce risky behaviour in youth. Lots of good stuff!
Despite all the positive aspects of team sports, I don’t register my kids in them. Why? Read on to find out, but first here’s a quick definition of team sports (for kids and youth) that I wrote for the purpose of this blog post.
Team Sports: An activity in which kids or youth are placed into teams by adults with an intent to compete and win against another team. For example, soccer, hockey, rugby, football, baseball and volleyball.
1. Team Sports Discourage Families from Being Active Together
Team sports don’t promote and empower families to be active together. These days many moms and dads are being relegated to the role of chauffeur and junior athlete manager, often putting aside their own needs to exercise and stay active. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not one for sitting on the sidelines for an hour (or more) watching my child run after a ball. The truth is I want to play too!
Three-quarters of parents that bring their child to team sports don’t play the sport regularly themselves. – Statistics Canada: Kids’ Sports
When parents finally have time to be active, its the kids that are too busy. “I wish my sons were here to ski with me”, lamented a father I met on a ski lift. His sons couldn’t join him because they were committed to a weekend of hockey practices and games.
Families are so busy these days, spending less and less time together. Instead of spending those precious weekend and after-school hours, rushing to-and-from practices and games, choose to spend those hours being active together.
- Choose activities and sports to do together as a family.
- Get a family ski pass for your local hill or nordic centre.
- Go bouldering together at your local climbing gym.
- Go for a family hike and explore local trails.
- Take a family yoga class.
- Go for a family bike ride on roads or trail.
- Swim together in a pool or lake.
- Commit your child to fewer team sports.
- Find ways to participate in your child’s sports.
- Volunteer to be a coach or assistant-coach.
- Practice your child’s favourite sport with them.
2.Team Sports Have High Rates of Injuries
I am not risk adverse. I bring my kids rock climbing, hiking up in the alpine and mountain biking. You can get hurt doing these things, really hurt. Team sports, however, account for a staggering amount of child injuries, more so than individual sports. – Injury risk is different in team and individual youth sport
Why is that? Kids are getting into teams sports younger, doing them more intensely and are more prone to injury because of the way their bodies are growing. The result is a high number of concussions, joint injuries and overuse injuries especially for kids that play hockey, basketball, soccer, football and baseball. The unfortunate thing is that these kinds of injuries have a lasting impacts on children’s physical and mental health.
It’s important to keep kids active and sports have an important role in doing that. Here are some suggestions for mitigating injuries cause by popular team sports.
- Wait until your child is a least 6 year old before registering them in team sports – Sport readiness in children and youth
- Choose an individual sport instead of a team sport so that your child can learn at their own pace. (e.g. swimming, running, climbing, biking, skating, skiing)
- Encourage your child to try a variety of sports instead of hyper-focusing on one.
- Ensure your child wears appropriate protective gear while playing sports.
- Listen to your child, don’t force them to play while injured!
3.Team Sports Encourage a Competitive Culture
“Crush them! Destroy them!”, these are some things coaches and parents might say to kids during team games. While team sports are often touted as being a wonderful way to learn about team building and cooperation, they can also teach kids to be aggressive and suppress empathy in order to win. When coaches and parents put kids under pressure to win it takes the fun out of playing the game.
“Having fun” is the main reason that most children like to participate in sports
- Register your child in a sport that emphasizes fun, participation and developmentally appropriate skills, not winning.
- Register your child in recreational/community team sports instead of competitive (“all star” or “rep”) team sports.
- Good coaches are key to making team sports a positive experience for kids. Do your homework, ask around and find a good coach for your kid. (i.e. committed to safety, models respectful behaviour, empathetic and empathizes team building)
4. Team Sports are Not Inclusive
Give me a game of neighbourhood street hockey or a backyard scrimmage any day. Wait aren’t these team sports!? Sure, but the difference is that everyone can play.
Team sports can be expensive and cost can be a major barrier for families. While there are way to help mitigate the cost of team sports (see suggestions below), kids might have troubles fitting into a team for various reasons. Children who are small for their age, obese, have medical issues or disabilities or have low physical literacy might feel singled-out by coaches, parent or other children on the team. It’s often the kids that would benefit the most from team sports that cannot or will not participate.
- Choose sports that are less expensive. (i.e. swimming, running)
- Buy used equipment.
- Play sports for fun with friends. (i.e. street hockey, backyard soccer)
- Look for team or individual sports that are best suited to your child’s unique abilities.
- Check for athletic bursaries in your city/town to help cover the cost of team sports.
5. Team Sports Don’t Keep Kids Active for Life
By the age of 13, 70% of kids drop out of team sports – National Alliance for Sports. That’s a shocking figure. The reasons are diverse and complex, sometimes it’s due to injuries, pressure from coaches or getting bullied. Also, this percentage only gets bigger as kids become youth, then adults. If participation in team sports isn’t the answer for keeping kids active into adolescences and adulthood, then what is?
The answer: Kids of active parents are more likely to be active as adults themselves!
- Choose activities you can do together as a family. (e.g. biking, running, hiking, skiing, kayaking, rock climbing)
- Make exercise a priority in your life and model active living to your children.
- Ask your kids to make suggestions for being active together.
- Make active living a fun and positive experience for the whole family.
- If your child enjoys team sports, keep a healthy balance between team sports and being active together as a family.
Team Sports can definitely be a fun way for kids to stay active BUT they are not the answer for keeping kids active and fit for life. While there are positive aspects to team sports, there are drawbacks too. Ultimately, the answer to keeping our kids fit is to model active living as parents and be active on a regular basis with our children. So strap on those shoes, skis, flippers and have fun adventuring together!