Getting Ready for Spring Sports

It’s quiet on the ride home from your son’s baseball game. What is usually a joyous time filled with, “Did you see my home run?!” and “Mom, we won!” has been replaced with silence and the occasional heavy sigh. As you check your rearview mirror, you see him with his head against the window and a look of defeat on his face. Hating to see him this way, you do your best to turn things around for him. You tell him about all of the good catches he made, how he helped his team, and how next time will be better. Eventually, his frown starts to fade, and before you know it, he’s ready for his next game.

When your child plays a sport, these teachable moments are in an abundance, and they are just one of the many benefits of allowing your child to get involved. Youth sports offer a host of emotional and physical benefits, from helping kids stay active to building self-esteem and learning to work with others. 

Jennifer Burns, a Baton Rouge mom, adds, “It’s important for parents to encourage kids to do team sports because it teaches them how to be successful in life. They learn how to work together and support each other, and they realize that it takes everyone doing their best to win. I love the fact that the kids can face adversity through sports and develop mental toughness to push through when things get hard. The qualities they learn through playing sports will help them in their everyday lives.”

However, knowing which sport is best for your child often depends on your youngster’s personality, as well as the time and money you’re willing to invest in a particular activity.

Determine readiness. Before the age of six or seven, many kids are still developing gross motor skills like running, kicking, jumping, and catching. They’re also still learning social skills like sharing, taking turns, and losing/winning games gracefully. Rather than organized sports in the early years, experts recommend exploring different activities, like kicking a ball around, playing at the playground, and taking swim or gymnastic lessons.

Burns encourages parents to help their children explore activities they are interested in. “I think, as parents, it’s important that we expose our kids to a lot of different activities so they can figure out what they really like. If you put them in too early, you will be able to tell, and maybe then, you should wait a while and come back to it later,” she says.

Aim for fun. Many parents naturally gravitate toward introducing their kids to the sports they enjoyed as children. While this is a good place to start, your child may not end up sharing your enthusiasm. And, you may go through several sports before you find one that’s the right fit for your child.

“We really need to look at what our kids do to have fun. If they are having fun, they will stay in the sport longer. They won’t burn out,” says Randy Goldstein, D.O., a board certified pediatrician who specializes in youth sports medicine. “If they are having fun, they are more likely to make goals that are to their highest potential.” 

Know the pros of team sports. Any sport your child participates in should help him develop strength, balance, and coordination, and provide him with an opportunity to push himself in a healthy, positive environment. 

“In a team sport, the kids have to work together towards a common goal and take instruction from a coach who isn’t necessarily a parent,” Goldstein says. “This is important to learning how to be around future teachers, future bosses and future leaders.”

Kassie Williams, a Prairieville mom, shares that her son, Adam, is thriving in team sports. “I feel like he thrives because he is competitive and wants to be the best to help get a win. On the flip side, because he’s so competitive, the older that he gets, the more difficult it is for him to do things all by himself. However, it’s helping him to have to trust his teammates to do their part. It’s a work in progress.”

Every child progresses at his or her own speed. Encourage your young athlete toward his personal goals with positive, calm support, and celebrate his personal accomplishments along the way. 

“Watch for individual progress, not what your child’s teammates are doing. Your child may seem behind or ahead of the others. This can change like the weather,” Goldstein says. “It takes one or two seasons to judge improvement and success–not one or two competitions.”

The downside? Much like individual sports, team sports like baseball and soccer have become more year-round in nature. Although this approach can help the team and individual players grow stronger and more skilled over time, families may find that the sport is more of a time and money commitment than they’d bargained for.

Know the pros of individual sports. Much of the success in individual sports like tennis, dance, swimming, and gymnastics depends on the motivation of the particular athlete. Athletes who excel at individual sports find satisfaction pushing themselves to achieve a personal goal rather than relying on the team to help them get there.

Demy Martin, a Baton Rouge gymnast, says, “I set personal goals for myself. When we are warming up, I listen to what the coaches tell me to work on, and once we reach the actual competition, I set goals to try and fix the errors I made while warming up.”

While your child might prefer an individual sport, that doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice the support of a team. “Even individual sports have the camaraderie or the partnership of a team,” Goldstein says, who works with premier-level gymnasts. “They travel together and learn to become partners, and they accomplish individual goals, but as a team.”

For Demy, competing in gymnastics allows her to stay active and meet friends outside of school. However, she also shares that there is more pressure when it comes to having teammates. “I feel there is more pressure to have teammates because you want everyone to do well, so you can win a team award at the end of the meet.”

The downside? Not all kids feel drawn to the spotlight during a performance or sporting event. And, some kids may put undue pressure on themselves to reach personal goals, causing the negatives to outweigh the positives. Some parents even find it difficult watching their youngsters navigate the pressures of a sport on their own, but overall, seeing them excel and thrive in the environment is a great experience.

Demy’s mom, Brittney, shares, “In gymnastics, you only get one shot at each event. The only event you get to do twice is the vault. When I am watching her compete, I sit in the stands, saying a little prayer that she nails each event and does the best she possibly can, both for her own benefit as well as the benefit of the team. I absolutely love watching her compete and excel at the sport she loves to do.”

Burns, whose daughter, Bailey, is on Crawfish Aquatics Youth Tri Team, adds, “I love seeing my daughter happy. When she is out there having fun with a smile on her face, that makes me happy. I love watching her give it her best and improving each race. When she is able to place or win, I love the confidence I see in her.” ■

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01 Mar 2019

By Christa Melnyk Hines

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