On the Sidelines: Welcome to the Game

Newsport 315

There is no debate that physical activity is important for a healthy lifestyle, and many young people are introduced to it through sports participation. While some kids are excited and charge ahead, others may be more hesitant, preferring to stand back and take the observer role.

Parents may find that they have to provide more encouragement and sometimes bribery to get more reluctant kids involved in sports. Some parents may struggle to identify the line between “encouraging” and “forcing” their young ones. So, when and how much do you push, particularly when it seems that anxiety is high or motivation is low?

• Identify the source of hesitance. Some young ones may be less interested in or afraid of playing a sport on a team where they do not have friends playing. Others may be hesitant to play because they are concerned that they can’t be perfect. Begin with identifying the underlying concern.

• Keep the variety high. Let a child know that he or she can try out for a number of activities, including different sports, and that it’s OK veer off of typical sports paths. The goal is to find something that they enjoy that allows them to achieve a sense of mastery. When they are young, however, the focus should be on having fun.

• Foot-in-the-door technique. Agree to a small commitment and go from there. Sometimes the first practice will do the trick. Other times, it may be a larger commitment. “Let’s go for the first week, and if you don’t like it, we can try something else.” Taking that first step is often the most challenging.

• Remain detached from the outcome. We know that a child’s perception of his or her parents’ expectations can affect their motivation, enjoyment and longevity in sports. If they believe you have an expected outcome such as winning or scoring, that belief may translate into anxiety or less openness about playing.

Positive youth athletic experiences often develop into a lifelong love for physical activity. Though competitive play is not required, you have to begin somewhere.

Nyaka NiiLampti is an assistant professor of psychology at Queens University and co-director of Mind Over Body at Southeast Psych.