Competitive Sports For Kids – How To Do It Right

This week, we navigated one of the biggest debates in kids’ sports, today: is competition healthy?

This week, we write about one of the biggest debates in kids’ sports, today:  Are competitive sports healthy? Here is some insight and discussion from experts and sports figures, to try and understand both sides of the issue.

Many of us grew up with sports. We still have the trophies to prove it. Competitive sports for kids are so much a part of our environment, we can’t see how anyone could take issue with encouraging competition.

Unfortunately, many parents reinforce this negative stereotype of winning at all cost. Because they want their children to be winners, they often force their kids to take advanced classes or practice long hours to make it into elite sport teams or dance programs. They hire tutors and private coaches to ensure that their child is a winner, implying that just doing a good job isn’t good enough for their child.

The key problem? Focusing on victory rather than the game. If we tell children the only reward of competition is victory, what won’t they do to get it?

Encouraging healthy competition is important. Sports bring a number of proven benefits to kids who play, beyond physical and mental development. (There’s a strong social component, too, which is one place technology can really help.)  So, what can we do? Does the game need to change?

No!  We as parents, coaches, and adults need to step up. Bringing the right attitude to the table ourselves will encourage healthy competition in our children. Are coaches important in this debate? You bet. The 2009 President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports said it’s all down to your coach:

[…] It seems equally evident that sports are powerful social experiences that may, under the right circumstances, have positive benefits. If sports are to have a positive impact on the character development of participants, the leadership and behavior of the coach are key.

We’d go farther than that, even. All of us adults –  parents and coaches alike –  are responsible for fostering and encouraging values of sportsmanship in our children.

As the 2012 London Olympics debut and the world gets to watch the dreams of young athletes come true, the joys and triumphs of sports are obvious. Winning and medals aside, however, involvement in sports has real benefits for kids’ physical, social, and even moral development.

Getting this right is about more than sports. It’s about the health, happiness, and future success of our kids.

Our kids aren’t gladiators. They’re competing, but they’re playing a game. Let them play, as hard and as well as they can. Recognize personal development and good sportsmanship, not victory above all.