The Score on Kids' Sports

When it comes to extracurricular activities, you really can't beat kids' sports. Joining a sports team, or competing individually, helps your child stay active, practice and learn sportsmanship, improve social skills and concentration, and develop a hobby he can enjoy for life.

But not all sports are created equal. To match your child with the right one, consider her size, age, skills, abilities, and above all, her interests.

If she has her heart set on ice hockey, she won't be happy with even the most enthusiastic and talented volleyball coach.

These sports profiles will help you learn more about particular sports: When kids can start, what skills they will need, how much exercise they will really get, what kinds of injury risks they will face, what kind of equipment they will need, and (critical for parents to prepare for) what to expect in terms of costs and time commitment.

Of course, there are dozens more kids' sports out there, if none of the above are a good fit for your child. Consider bowling; cheerleading, gymnastics, or dance; cross-country running or track and field; fencing or martial arts; field hockey, rugby, or lacrosse; rowing or sailing; skiing or snowboarding; golf; tennis (even table tennis!); Ultimate; volleyball; water polo; or wrestling.

The Benefits of Kids’ Sports

Simply put, sports teach some life lessons better than anything else: How to win graciously, how to lose graciously, how to be a team player. Athletes learn how to be respectful and show it. They learn how to be both leaders and followers. They set goals, solve problems, and put in a lot of hard work and practice time, often without seeing results right away.

 

Yet there are some more immediate upsides, too. Sports help kids get a daily dose of physical activity, and prevent them from spending time on more sedentary pursuits. Participating in sports can help kids make friends and even prevent stress. And it's just fun ... for your athlete and for your family, too.

The Downsides of Kids’ Sports

As with any kids' activity, there are challenges with sports. It's often very costly. You'll face schedule conflicts and sometimes big time commitments. Your child may get anxious, and you may not like the other parents you're dealing with. And of course, there can be a very real risk of injury

Questions About Kids’ Sports

Whether or not you played sports yourself, things have changed a lot since the days of sandlot baseball and pick-up basketball games. You might be wondering:

Working with Coaches

Your child's coach can be your biggest ally in youth sports, or your biggest obstacle. Good ones have the power to truly transform your child's experience. A bad one could cause your child to burn out or lose interest. Maybe you've stepped up to coach your own kid

Most coaches are doing the best they can to make sure kids have a good experience. So working with them, not against them, is your best bet. Usually, they are a great resource when you have questions, need recommendations, or want advice. 

Saving Money on Kids' Sports

The rumors are true: Kids' sports can be very expensive—even the ones that don't require a lot of equipment. Costs for coaching, apparel, and travel can add up quickly. To save, do what you can to hold down equipment costs. Register early for leagues, tournaments, competitions, and classes; you can often get an early-bird discount this way (or at least avoid any late fees). Do any required volunteer work so you won't be charged for skipping it. Carpool (after all, time is money, and gas is expensive!) and participate in team fundraising opportunities.

Purchasing "official" player and team photos can easily set you back $30 or more—per kid, per sport, per season. Take your own pictures instead, or ask a talented friend to do so. If you love the personalized buttons, keychains, and water bottles you can get from professional photographers, check out Zazzle or CafePress and make your own. You'll control how they look and how much you spend.

Consider serving on the board or leadership team of your child's club or league. At the least, you'll gain perspective on how much the group's efforts really cost. Better yet, maybe you can spot ways to cut expenses and lower everyone's payments. Could you convert mailings and sign-ups from snail mail to online? Find a more lucrative fundraising project? Get local businesses to sponsor your team? Apply for grants or scholarship can you apply for? Pull string (with family, friends, or colleagues) to bring in discounts or donations?

Most importantly, have an honest talk with your child before he tries out for or joins an elite team. These are by far the most expensive teams in youth sports, as parents must cover travel expenses, tournament fees, coaches' salaries and so on. Does your child truly want to play at this level? Try not to get caught up in pressure from coaches or other parents about your athlete's potential. He might be just as happy on a school or rec team at a fraction of the cost. (However, older kids at advanced levels of play are also old enough to help cover costs, via a portion of their allowance or money they receive as gifts. They may also be able to earn money through their sport: coaching or teaching younger kids, serving as a referee, or working at a sports camp.)

A Word from Verywell

As a parent to a young athlete, you play many positions. You support your child (emotionally and practically), and lend a hand to coaches and teammates too. You're also there to protect and advocate for your kid both on and off the field. And you're a role model when it comes to sportsmanship, fitness, and nutrition. It's not easy (none of this parenting stuff is, right?), but if you're guided by love for your kid, you'll win this game every time.

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