You don’t need a Ph.D. or an M.D. to know that the benefits for children who participate in organized sports are limitless. Increased life expectancy, an improved immune system, better sleep patterns, reduced stress and improved weight control highlight just a few of the health-related perks associated with youth sports involvement. So when you also consider the empirical evidence around the educational, social, psychological and financial benefits, it becomes clear why involvement in organized sports is critical to the development of young children.
According to a 2016 report published by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (‘SFIA’), 56% of kids between the ages of 6-17 participate in at least one team sport each year. And while that number has risen slightly over the past few years, the SFIA has expressed concerns about the future outlook of youth sports engagement. It’s been estimated that kids today have about half as much ‘free time’ as children did 30 years ago and the rise of alternative leisure activities (i.e. video games, internet, television, eSports) presents new challenges for the growth of youth sports.
This is where parental influence can help move the needle in the right direction. Signing your child up to play in the nearest community sports league is the easy part – the challenge is how to keep your child engaged over the long run and prevent them from burning out too quickly. According to a study performed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, the number 1 reason why kids quit sports is quite simple – it’s just not fun anymore. So how can parents lay the foundation for the best possible youth sports experience for their child?
Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) – a non-profit organization whose core mission is to transform the culture of youth sports to enable a positive, character-building experience – is a market leader in helping prepare athletes, coaches and parents for youth sports involvement. Their concept of “The Second-Goal Parent” depicts what all parents with children participating in youth sports should strive towards – one who concentrates on life lessons, while letting coaches and athletes focus on competing. PCA’s “Ten Tips for First-time Parents” highlights some best practices for how to hit the ground running and set your child up for success as they begin to embark on a long and fulfilling youth sports journey. The theme iterated throughout their messaging revolves around preaching the importance of teamwork, resilience, communication skills, and how to overcome adversity, crucial traits that sports can help engrain into a child’s mindset.
For those parents further along in the youth sports lifecycle with children approaching the dreaded teenage years, parents.com highlights 6 key behaviors to look for in your child (summarized below) that may indicate he or she may be beginning to lose interest. Studies have shown that 13 years old is a critical age for children participating in organized sports and typically when most decide to quit sports altogether.
- He/she doesn’t talk about the sport anymore.
- He/she makes excuses to skip practice.
- He/she shows no excitement before a competition.
- He/she seems tired all the time and isn’t sleeping well.
- He/she shows signs of depression – loss of appetite, nausea, and headaches.
- He/she avoids team activities away from the field.
So while parents play a pivotal role in fostering an encouraging and supportive environment for their child in youth sports, proper safety management is perhaps even more important. Don’t think that just because your child doesn’t play the obvious high-contact sports that he or she is immune to serious safety consequences. While football, hockey, and rugby comprise the majority of concussion-related injuries, recent studies have highlighted a rise in head-related injuries associated with soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, basketball, and cheerleading as well.
With the increasing awareness and concern surrounding youth sports injuries, parents must be proactive in getting educated on the proper protocol and procedures for both pre-injury and post-injury situations. A recent trend is quickly gaining traction with children highly active in youth sports – Baseline Concussion Testing. According to Danielle Lueck – athletic trainer for Aurora Health Care – Baseline Concussion Testing is a 20 to 45-minute computerized test of a young athlete’s cognizant abilities. Before the season begins, an athlete’s knowledge and abilities will be evaluated in the form of a test, which is then translated into a score unique to that athlete – this score can be used as a baseline metric for comparison in the event that he or she does sustain a concussion in the future. The assessment results can also be used to find courses of treatment and determine how quickly a player can return to the game if a head-injury is sustained.
So while self-learning and proactive safety management are simply ‘optional’ tasks for parents, PCA continues to drive the ball forward in making parental education mandatory. PCA recently partnered with California Magic Soccer Club by asking at least one parent of all club players to attend PCA’s annual Parent Workshop, which provides parents proper training and education to ensure they have the right approach to youth sports health management. Attendance was deemed mandatory, and parents who were unable to make the event were required to complete an alternative certification course to equip themselves with the proper training and education.
Until similar education and training requirements become the norm on a wider scale, the onus will lie on parents to take the initiatives necessary to set their child up for a healthy and enjoyable youth sports experience.