Here’s How to Help Your Child Choose the Right Sport

By Alex Perdikis

Trying to find the right team sport for your child?

The choice is overwhelming. Soccer? Baseball? Softball? Volleyball? Football? Hockey? Basketball? Lacrosse? And on and on.

Does your kid want to focus on one sport (or less) per season, or can she simply not get enough of team play?

How much time, energy, and money are you willing to put into your kid’s hobby? Can you ferry him to the ends of the earth — or, at least, your home state? Or does your job, family obligations, or personal sanity demand that you stay closer to home?

Your child’s choice of sport will be informed by these questions and many others. Let’s take a look at the major considerations involved in choosing the right sport for your kid, your family, and your own generous self.

Safety First

Safety is understandably top of mind for parents these days. We know so much more about the long-term dangers of contact sports like football and hockey than we did even a decade ago, and new information continues to dribble out of long-term physical and cognitive health studies. If your kid is set on playing a contact sport, make sure the league or program does everything possible to protect his or her safety. Be wary of opaque or uncommunicative programs that appear not to have players’ best interests at heart.

Gauge Interest

You might want your child to relive your own glory days as a star volleyball or basketball player, but does your child? Every parent knows that pushing a disinterested child into a particular pursuit is a fool’s errand, so make sure there’s a will before you show the way.

Consider Innate Skills

Where does your child’s athletic ability shine? Is he or she a lightning-fast runner? A rock-solid defender? A formidable thrower with impeccable aim? Different abilities produce different results on the field, diamond, or court. Before you suggest one sport over another, make sure your child’s abilities are complementary — or, failing that, that your child is willing to learn.

Consult Peers

At crunch time, your fellow parents are an invaluable resource. If you’re considering a particular league or program, ask parents who’ve put their kids through it to share their experiences — and, if you don’t like what you hear, think twice about your choice.

Plot Trajectory

Where does your kid want to end up? It seems premature to think about high school, let alone college, when evaluating athletic opportunities for your elementary schooler. But if your child has big plans to captain the high school soccer team or earn an athletic ride to a four-year university, you need to evaluate the competition they’re likely to face and determine what they need to do now to make their dreams a reality.

Know That There’s No Wrong Answer

The five preceding points will help you choose the right sport for your child. But they don’t have to lock you into a decision that you’ll come to regret.

Your child’s choice of sport isn’t irreversible. If he or she decides down the line that the whole soccer or softball thing isn’t working out, no binding contract or overweening sense of obligation need tie him or her down. It’s a great big world of youth sports out there, with a pursuit and position to fit just about every child.

And always remember that your kid is the boss. Even if you have hundreds of other things going on, as you surely do, check in periodically to make sure that his or her chosen sport continues to work out. Your kid’s physical and emotional health depends on your receptiveness to new information.

Why Every Child Needs to Play Youth Sports

By Alex Perdikis

Many athletes (and athletic parents) wrongly assume that the case for youth sports is self-evident. Everyone understands the importance of exposing kids to robust physical activity and the soft skills inherent in team-based activities, right?

Nope. Acceptance of youth sports is far from universal. Many parents have legitimate reasons to be leery, whether it’s the physical risks of contact sports like football or the potential body-image issues bound up in pursuits such as gymnastics.

Others simply don’t give much thought to the benefits of youth sports, focusing instead on academics and non-athletic extracurricular pursuits that tangibly prepare kids for the real world and enhance their appeal to selective colleges and universities.

Let’s face it: not every kid is going to be the next LeBron James. That doesn’t mean kids without generational athletic talent shouldn’t try their luck at youth soccer, basketball, softball, and the like. Let’s take a look at some incontrovertible facts about youth sports and explore the most potent arguments for why every kid deserves a chance to play.

Kids Actually Like Playing Sports

Shocker, right? Even the most bookish kids like to stretch their legs and quicken their hearts from time to time. Youth sports provide productive outlets for excess energy — better than traipsing unsupervised around the neighborhood or disrupting other kids’ learning in class.

It’s Healthy

The health benefits of youth sports have been well documented: lower obesity rates, lower insulin resistance, better cardiovascular health, better musculoskeletal health. These benefits can persist long after kids stop playing, even as their lifestyles become more sedentary — though studies show that people who played sports as children are more likely to be active adults. Parents looking to get their kids off the couch and out into the sunshine need look no further than their local youth soccer or Little League organization.

It Encourages Teamwork and Cooperation

No matter how self-centered kids are (and they’re very often self-centered), team sports have a way of putting them in their place. Not in a punitive or abusive sense, of course — rather, by imparting the value of cooperation and teamwork. Kids who play team sports are far more likely to work effectively in ever more collaborative higher education and work environments, producing results of which “armies of one” can scarcely dream.

It Teaches Crucial Life Lessons

Kids are optimistic by nature. Many children, especially those from privileged backgrounds, imagine that things will always go their way, that parents and others will always have their backs, that they can have or experience anything they want.

Well, that’s of course not how things go in the real world. Even though the stakes are (thankfully) not that high, every kid who plays youth sports experiences some measure of adversity: losing games, getting benched during crucial plays, facing down dirty play or insults from opponents. While painful, such experiences turn kids into well-adjusted adults ready to face the world with realistic expectations.

Scholarships Do Happen

It’s counterproductive for parents to assume that sporty children will qualify for athletic scholarships to their dream high schools and colleges. Only a tiny fraction of youth sports players make the scholarship cut, and an even smaller percentage go on to play professionally.

Then again, it’s realistic for talented young athletes to at least aspire to partial or full scholarships to the schools of their choice. For families on the lower end of the income scale, athletic scholarships create opportunities that simply wouldn’t be available otherwise — namely, the quantifiable and not-so-quantifiable benefits of four-year degrees from accredited colleges and universities.

Youth Soccer Prepares You Well for These 4 Careers

By Alex Perdikis

Compared with sports that require lots of equipment, like football and hockey, soccer is cheap and low-maintenance — kids need shin guards, socks, cleats, a uniform, a ball, and they’re good to go. Soccer is also easy to pick up and fun to play, even at the lowest levels of the sport.

So it’s no surprise that youth soccer is wildly popular. What’s more surprising, and certainly less well known, is youth soccer’s pedagogical power. For millions of American kids, soccer isn’t simply a transient pastime. It’s a stepping stone to lucrative, impactful careers — an activity that builds character and imparts life lessons that linger long after participants hang up their cleats.

Youth soccer is an especially powerful preparatory tool for kids pursuing these four common careers.

1. Architecture

Wait — a game that involves running around on a grassy pitch and trying to get a ball past your last opponent lays the groundwork for careers in architecture? Really?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. One of soccer’s most underappreciated competencies is spatial reasoning: the ability to visualize objects in space and predict where they’ll turn up before they actually get there. That’s a critical skill for architects, too.

Turn on any professional soccer match and you’ll hear the announcers blathering about a team’s “shape,” meaning adequate spacing and ample passing angles between players. Teams that maintain their “shape” as individual players move up and down the field tend to create more scoring opportunities than teams that bunch or spread too thin.

Understanding “shape” is like riding a bike — once you learn, it’s hard to forget. Spatial reasoning is an innate human ability, but it doesn’t automatically switch on. Soccer is a reliable, and more importantly fun, on switch.

2. Nursing and Medicine

Soccer requires strong legs and formidable cardiovascular conditioning, even at the youth level. It’s impossible to watch a soccer match without being impressed by the players’ stamina. That’s sort of a metaphor for the famously demanding medical professions, where practitioners are often expected to put in 12- or 24-hour shifts without a second thought.

Though it’s not nearly as dangerous as football, soccer is also fraught with peril. Virtually everyone who plays youth soccer long enough sustains some kind of injury, whether it’s an easily treatable laceration or a more serious skeletal trauma. Seeing (or experiencing) such injuries firsthand is a powerful motivator for future doctors and nurses.

3. College and Career Counseling

Youth soccer inspires almost tribal passions in its adherents. If you’ve ever watched kids fire themselves up ahead of a big game, you know the true meaning of “team spirit.” Long after their playing days are over, kids can look back with fondness on memories and friendships made in the spirit of motivation.

And some continue to make those memories with members of the new generation. The difference between team sports and college and career counseling is one of degree, not kind. Great counselors draw upon deep reserves of motivational talent and passion, stored up in some cases for years or decades.

4. Physical Therapy

It’s not hard to see how a few years of youth soccer, and the inevitable aches, tweaks, and more serious injuries that come with it, can prepare kids for careers in physical therapy. There’s nothing like firsthand experience to lead one to one’s calling, right?

Injuries are tough to watch and even tougher to sustain, but most have an inspirational silver lining: the promise of recovery. For future physical therapists weighing the pros and cons of the calling, overcoming one’s own injury or helping one’s teammates do the same may be all the persuasion that’s needed.