Draft Choice: Which Sport is Best Suited for Your Child?

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Pediatric Fitness

boy playing baseballMADISON - Parents end up selecting their children's sports in ways as diverse as the sports themselves. Some pick a particular sport because they want their kids to stay fit or have fun.
Others are looking to live vicariously through their children, to relive the good experiences they had playing the sport when they were kids themselves. Still others opt for the heavy-pressure route, convincing themselves that their kids can become the next Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant.
If you ask the experts, however, they'll tell you that the most sensible way to select a sport for your child starts with - surprise! - the child.
"The best approach is to have the kids pick the sport that they think is fun - and then try to expose them to many sports," says Dr. David Bernhardt, a pediatrician and sports medicine physician with UW Health. "A variety of different sports can give your child significant benefits from a coordination and fitness standpoint."
Like an increasing number of physicians, Dr. Bernhardt worries about a national trend toward children specializing in a single sport at a young age. While year-round specialization may breed an increase in skills, it also carries increased risk - of overuse injuries, boredom and burnout. Add to that the all-too-common parental pressure to succeed, and you have a potential recipe for disaffection and disaster.
"Unfortunately, I have plenty of examples of teens who have told me, 'I want to quit but I'm afraid to tell my parents,'" says Dr. Bernhardt.
Take Cues From Your Kids
Paying attention to how your kids are feeling about the sports they're playing is a key way to head off problems. Matching their personalities and skills to the sports to which you expose them in the first place is another. Just as each sport offers a specific type of coordination and fitness benefit for children, some sports are better suited to certain types of personalities and skill sets than others.
For example, a high-energy child who has trouble sitting still might find baseball - a sport that requires significant amounts of standing around both during and between innings - frustrating. A sport like ice hockey, by contrast, offers fast action and a quickly changing environment - great for the spirited child, but perhaps not as rewarding for a deliberate one.
Other sports, like football or soccer, may be more suitable for multiple types of kids' personalities and body types.
"From a physical standpoint, there's a position for anyone who wants to play football, no matter what their build," notes Bernhardt. While slower, larger kids can play line, speedier kids who lack strength might gravitate to a position like wide receiver and defensive back.
"The other thing that's nice about football is that there's a lot of thinking involved, so as the kids learn plays, they learn techniques in terms of blocking and tackling. For kids who don't have endurance, there are breaks every 30 seconds between plays and there's something everybody has to be doing on every play."
Basketball offers a similar set of mental benefits, but may be a more demanding sport physically. Kids who can handle the constant up-and-down-the-court action will get a serious cardiovascular workout; those who struggle to keep up or have trouble dribbling the ball may not.
"As a young kid, all you want to do is touch the ball and make a basket," says Bernhardt. "When your first experience is that there are two or three kids who know how to dribble and everyone else doesn't, those two or three kids touch the ball a lot and everybody else doesn't. It leads to disappointed kids who don't want to come back and play."
Bernhardt urges parents not to forget about what your elementary school gym teacher used to refer to as "lifetime sports," activities that emphasize a fitness benefit over excelling - sports like golf, tennis and kayaking. In Wisconsin, the last 10 years have also seen a rise in the popularity of less traditional sports like lacrosse, rugby and ultimate Frisbee.

Date Published: 01/29/2008

News tag(s):  pediatric fitness

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