How to Help Your Child Stay Active and Choose the Best Sport

By Jon Solomon

Every day we’re reminded about the value of moving our bodies for physical health, emotional health and academic success. Yet, less than one in four children ages six to 12 are considered active to a healthy level, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. So how can we get our kids more active—and keep them safe in sports?

The solutions are simpler than you may think. The Aspen Institute has created free resources, including tips to get your kids to be more active by helping them get into the best sport for their unique needs.

1. Different sports have different benefits, and different children have different needs

No one sport has the same benefits or risks. It’s a balancing act based on you and your child’s priorities. A good place to start is to ask them what sports they want to play. If they don’t know, review the options. There is no wrong answer when picking a sport. Your child’s risk for injuries varies by sport, so know that going in. Just understand the risks/rewards and your child’s interests and needs.

2. Consider activities that limit peer comparison

Not all kids want to participate in team sports. And that’s OK. Individual sports can feel safer, especially for kids with special needs or low confidence and self-esteem.

Rock-climbing, skiing, snowboarding, martial arts, archery, jump rope, cycling and hiking are all examples of individual activities. Check out the Healthy Sport Index for recommended sports and activities for health purposes based on the most popular team sports.

3. Learn your coach’s credentials, or be the coach

Coaches determine how much exercise and how safe practices are. Research shows that good coaches also help lower kids’ anxiety levels and lift their self-esteem. Coaches can make an athlete for life—or wreck their enthusiasm for sports and physical activity altogether.

Trained coaches do best. One study found that only 5% of kids who played for trained coaches quit the sport the next year—the attrition rate was 26% for untrained coaches. Only about 40% of youth coaches are trained in areas like CPR/basic first aid, general injury prevention, physical conditioning, concussion management, sports skills and tactics, and effective motivational techniques. 

It’s easier than you think to be a volunteer coach. Learn skills and access resources at How to Coach Kids.

4. Encourage your child to play different sports

Research shows that playing only one sport can lead to overuse injuries and burnout. NBA legend Kobe Bryant recommends basketball players also try soccer to develop their overall health and basketball skills. USA Baseball encourages its players to play tennis. The U.S. Tennis Association encourages its athletes to play basketball. The more options your child has, the more likely he or she will be an athlete for life.

5. Make time for free play

Make sure you give your child time to play freely on their own or with others. Research shows that there are several key benefits to free play. It…

  • Builds creativity and the ability to come up with unique ideas
  • Develops motor planning skills, helping the child to create and carry out ideas
  • Fosters independence and decision-making skills
  • Develops social skills and collaborative playing in groups
  • Releases emotions from trauma

Jon Solomon is the editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

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