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 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Participating in sports is a great way to meet this guideline. Sports participation positively impacts a child’s physical, psychological, and social health (Merkel, 2013).

The Benefits of Sports for Kids

  • Benefits of sports participation in kids include:
  • 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

(Merkel, 2013; Felfe et al, 2016).

It’s no wonder that most parents want to find the perfect sport for their children. 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 to participate in.

Ages 0-5

For younger kids, the primary goal should be finding sports and activities that focus on fun while also helping to build gross motor skills and fundamentals. Examples include running, jumping, throwing, and catching. (Athletics Canada LTAD). Many team sports provide opportunities for good motor development, but some other independent activities to choose from are:

  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
  • Swimming

Ages 6-9

For kids around 6-9 years, building agility, balance, coordination, and speed and 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:

  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Softball

However, there should be no formal competition and should emphasize fun.

Ages 9-12

From 9-12 years, sports should begin to be more structured. The focus should be on learning proper warm-up, cool-down, stretching, mobility, and 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, choosing a combination of activities that provide as much variety as possible and emphasize the upper and lower body, individual and team sports, power, and coordination is ideal. Think swimming and basketball, for example, or track and field, tennis, and hockey.

Ages 12-16

From approximately 12 to 16 years, strength, endurance, and speed will become a greater focus, and competition will have a larger emphasis (Athletics Canada, LTAD). Children need to be monitored closely for overuse injury, as during their growth spurt or peak height velocity (PHV), they are most at risk (Athletics Canada, LTAD).

Over-training is also a danger as 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 in sports where they can learn, succeed, and fail in a safe and supportive environment. Children should also have fun, which is the biggest motivator for any physical activity at any age. The goal should not be to build the next Olympic athlete but to find activities that keep kids motivated and active.

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References:

  • 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.
  • https://athletics.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/LTAD_EN.pdf
  • Matos, N., & Winsley, R. J. (2007). The trainability of young athletes and overtraining. Journal of sports science & medicine, 6(3), 353.