The Best Sports For Your Child, and How To Prevent Over-Training
Physical activity is imperative for the health and development of children in many ways. The Canadian physical activity guidelines suggest that youth ages 5-17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, and participating in sports is a great way to meet this guideline. Plus, any sports participation has been shown to have a positive impact on the physical, psychological, and social health of a child (Merkel, 2013).
The Benefits of Sports for Kids
Sport participation in kids has been shown to improve motor skills, decrease the risk of obesity, decrease depression, lower high-risk activities, boost self-confidence and self-worth, improve social skills, increase academic performance, reduce peer problems, emotional problems, develop discipline and goal setting, and the list goes on (Merkel, 2013; Felfe et al, 2016).
It’s no wonder that most parents want to find the perfect sport for their child. So what are the best sports for kids, and how do we keep them healthy and happy while they participate?
Picking the Right Sport
For any child, the best sports are those that keep them motivated. But it’s important to consider the child’s age when choosing a new activity for them to participate in.
For young kids (0-5 years), finding sports and activities that focus on fun while helping to build gross motor skills and fundamentals such as running, jumping, throwing and catching should be the primary goal (Athletics Canada LTAD). Many team sports provide opportunities for good motor development, but some other independent activities to choose from are:
- Martial arts
For kids around 6-9 years, building agility, balance, coordination, and speed as well as developing and maintaining flexibility should be first and foremost (Athletics Canada LTAD). Some children at this age may be more motivated to participate in team sports such as:
However, there should be no formal competition yet, and fun should still be emphasized.
From 9-12 years, sport should begin to be more structured. More focus should be put into learning proper warm-up, cool-down, stretching and mobility, as well as the mental aspects (Athletics Canada, LTAD).
Children should participate in multiple activities and sports, and not begin to specialize until after this stage. At 12 years old, kids should be doing 2-3 activities per week (Athletics Canada, LTAD) to allow for adequate rest and provide proper balance. As such, it is ideal to choose a combination of activities that provide as much variety as possible, thus emphasizing upper and lower body, individual and team sports, power and coordination. Think swimming and basketball for example, or track and field, tennis, and hockey.
From approximately 12 to 16 years, strength and endurance, as well as speed will become a greater focus, and competition has a larger emphasis (Athletics Canada, LTAD). During this time children need to be monitored closely for overuse injury, as it is during their growth spurt or their peak height velocity (PHV) that they are most at risk (Athletics Canada, LTAD).
Over-training is also a danger to consider: this is essentially an imbalance between training fatigue and stress versus recovery and may occur in around 30% of youth athletes (Matos & Winsley, 2007). Here are some symptoms to watch out for that may indicate over-training (Matos & Winsley, 2007):
- Higher than normal fatigue
- Decreased interest in training/sport
- Decreased focus
- Increased irritability, sadness, depression
- Decreased self-confidence
Above all else, children should be placed in sports in which they can learn, succeed, and fail in a safe and supportive environment, and where they can have fun – the biggest motivator for any physical activity at any age. The goal should not be to build the next Olympic athlete, it should ultimately be to find activities that will keep kids motivated and active for life.
As physiotherapists, we are highly trained healthcare professionals who help people prevent injury in addition to treating acute and chronic injuries. And we’d love to help!
Book an appointment with one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our 6 clinics located throughout Edmonton and Sherwood Park including Riverbend, Meadowlark, Belvedere, Namao, Sherwood Park or our newest clinic in West Henday.
- Merkel, D. L. (2013). Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open access journal of sports medicine, 4, 151.
- Felfe, A. C., Lechner, M., & Steinmayr, A. (2011). Sports and child development.
- Matos, N., & Winsley, R. J. (2007). Trainability of young athletes and overtraining. Journal of sports science & medicine, 6(3), 353.