October 18, 2021

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Philosophy and Research on Young Children’s Sports

2 min read

Elementary-age children are not little adults or little teenagers. They have needs and desires appropriate to their developmental stage. Sports experiences can help kids develop healthy habits and attitudes; learn self-control and “playing by the rules”; and enjoy working with their team-mates to create something larger than themselves. However, inappropriate sports experiences can destroy these benefits. What’s appropriate for 5-11 year-olds? Children change a lot during these years, but generally this is a good age for having FUN with sports (or for ruining that possibility).

For developing SKILLS along with overall health and fitness, for learning RULES of games, and for developing RELATIONSHIPS with team-mates. Especially in the early elementary years, children will “turn off” to sports if they experience too much PRESSURE from parents and coaches, to “perform” in sports. Many sports leagues plead with parents to avoid shouting at their kids from the sidelines, but it’s amazing how hard it can be. Let them play! Even overdoing praise for good play can be a form of pressure on young children, and obviously criticizing or berating children for playing poorly is harmful at this age.

Another big problem is too much emphasis on COMPETITION winning and losing especially when parents feel competitive on behalf of their children. Many leagues do not even keep score in the early elementary years. A great game is one where children put in effort and have fun, regardless of who wins. Professional sports can be interesting to kids, but only up to a point. Too much watching sports on TV means too little playing sports oneself. The high level of advertising for alcoholic beverages is of course totally inappropriate for this age group.

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