Competitive Sports for Children: Benefits and Risks

Introduction

Sports are a great way for your kids to have fun while staying fit and developing socially. They develop essential skills like how to work as a team, how to be a good sport, how to adapt to challenges, how to control your emotions, and how to take pride in your accomplishments. The competitive nature of sports and its impact on child development has been an open area of discussion for many years. The aim of this article is to provide a research driven approach to how your child will respond to a competitive sport environment and how you can help them manage their stress.

Benefits

A sedentary lifestyle has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic illnesses. Although these conditions more often impact adults, it is considered to be a lifelong process starting with behaviours developed in childhood1. Participation in organized sports like Soccer, Hockey, Basketball, Gymnastics or more provide the environment for children to increase their physical activity levels and develop the necessary physical and social skills that they will need as they mature2.

Risks

As children begin to compete in sports at earlier ages there are concerns about the potential negative effects it has on growth, maturation, and mental development. Parents are often worried about the psychological stress or emotional stress that is associated with the participation in competitive sports. If the demand of the sport exceeds a child’s mental or physical development, they may develop feelings of failure or frustration3. Research has shown that by the age of 12, children will be mature enough to comprehend the complex tasks of sports and grasp the the meaning of competition4.

Stress Management Strategies

This does not mean that children should not participate in sports till they are 12, it means that parents have to ensure that their young athletes maintain a healthy attitude about sports and focus on the tools for dealing with the stress that comes with participation. A little stress can be good as it helps your child develop skills for adapting to challenges, however too much stress can take the fun out of a sport and make it hard to perform. Stress can come from the following factors:

  • Pressure by parents or coaches to win
  • Having a too hectic schedule
  • From no longer enjoying the sport

To help your child manage their stress try the following:

  • Change the focus from winning to putting the best effort and reward having a positive attitude
  • Reflect on family schedule, Limit practice time or only participate in one sport or activity per season
  • If the child loses interest, find out why and make a decision together. Maybe there is a better fit

References

  1. Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Fitness, Activity, and Sports Participation in the Preschool Child. Pediatrics. 1992;90(6):1002-1004. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/90/6/1002.short. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  2. Organized Sports for Children and Preadolescents. PEDIATRICS. 2001;107(6):1459-1462. doi:10.1542/peds.107.6.1459
  3. Kleiber, Douglas, Burke, Ed. Psychological and Physical Implications of Highly Competitive Sports for Children. Ed.gov. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED107612. Published 2020. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  4. Europe PMC. Europe PMC. Europepmc.org. https://europepmc.org/article/med/12119863. Published 2019. Accessed September 10, 2020.

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