Noncompetitive Sports for Kids

Should kids play sports just for fun? Absolutely

Kids can gain a lot from noncompetitive sports
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It might seem like noncompetitive sports aren't worth your child's time (which is probably limited). After all, some of the biggest lessons we want kids to learn from sports stem from competition: how to be a gracious winner, how not to be a sore loser, how to bounce back from disappointment, how to try your best no matter what. And yet, just-for-fun, noncompetitive play has a lot to offer. We should make room for this kind of play because:

Noncompetitive play still teaches sportsmanship. Even if a game has no winner or loser, kids still need to respect the noncompetitive nature of the setting, along with respecting their teammates, opponents, and coaches. And respect is at the foundation of true sportsmanship.

Noncompetitive sports still teach social skills. Playing in a noncompetitive league, or just joining in a pick-up game, still requires kids to work together, communicate as a team, and share resources. But they can do so without the tension that comes from playing to win.

Noncompetitive options mean kids can play multiple sports. It sounds like a paradox, but if you want your child to do better in competitive sports, let him play some noncompetitive ones. Multi-sport athletes are more well-rounded and in better physical shape. Keeping at least some of those sports free of competition lowers the pressure on your child. It also saves you money and gives your child a low-stakes way to try new things.

Noncompetitive play is fun. Playing just for amusement, instead of for a trophy or a medal or a scholarship, reinforces the idea that physical activity is enjoyable. It sends the message that sports are fun and can be a lifelong pleasure.

Noncompetitive sports still provide physical activity. Kids need at least an hour of exercise every day, and just-for-fun sports can help provide it.

In fact, participants may even get more meaningful physical activity than kids on a competitive team, since playing time is distributed more evenly. Plus, there's more emphasis on playing games, vs. practices that are all about drilling and conditioning.

Noncompetitive sports still offer the chance to learn new skills. You can't learn if you don't try. And in most cases, it's easier to learn if you don't have to worry about letting down your team (or yourself, or your parents). There is always the option to move up to a more elite level of play later, or to move from the just-for-fun dance class to the prepping-for-a-big-recital class.

Noncompetitive options are a better fit for some kids. Not every child is motivated by competition. Some find it discouraging or just unpleasant. They won't enjoy or want to participate in highly competitive leagues, so they need options that feel right for them.

Noncompetitive sports mean less craziness from the sidelines. When parents buy in to the everybody-plays motto, they have little reason for crazy sports parent antics. That makes for a much more enjoyable experience for other parents, kids, coaches, and volunteers.

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