Children who play sport enjoy the multiple benefits of keeping physically active.
Sport is great for social skills, making friends, confidence, leadership skills, physical and mental health, and lowering stress.
That said, some kids require a little encouragement to help them find a sport or activity they love.
Before we proceed, it’s worth challenging the word ‘force’.
Forcing kids to play sports against their will is wrong and will make them unhappy. Feeling under pressure or forced to participate will likely make them feel dispirited and resentful. If it’s not an activity they enjoy, they may be left feeling inadequate, low in confidence or alienated.
Parents should question why they want to push their child towards playing sports. If it’s for a parent’s own personal reasons – perhaps they love sports and expect their child to find the same enjoyment in it – it’s not the right reason. Similarly, a parent shouldn’t look to their child to seek success in a particular sport if perhaps their own dreams of sporting triumph were scuppered. It’s about the child’s enjoyment, not the parent’s. In the same vein, parents shouldn’t force a child to participate in sports just because everyone else is.
Manage your own expectations – it’s not necessarily about finding one sport that fits. A child will benefit from a range of sporting experiences. Getting kids to play – and fall in love with – sport can be a journey of exploration with some trial and error before they find what truly captures their interest.
So, should you force your child to play sports? The answer is no. Instead embrace their interests, offer a little encouragement and let them take the lead.
There is a term called positive pushing, which means giving constructive, well-meaning encouragement that has the child’s best interests at heart.
Positive pushing would perhaps involve encouraging a child to step outside their comfort zone or trying something new. This can be a rewarding and enlightening experience, the gratification of which can only be discovered if the child learns it for themselves. But in order to do this they may need a little gentle encouragement or support from a parent.
The parent may instinctively feel that the child would benefit from trying a new activity, plucking up the courage to interact with a new group, or thrive learning new skills. When it works, positive pushing can help a child to realise their full potential, learn resilience or boost their confidence. They may also discover a new sport or activity they love.
Children may not appreciate the full range of benefits of physical activity so it’s the job of the parent to educate them. Make positive associations between participation and fulfilment, physical activity and improved health.
Taking part in sports will boost confidence, improve concentration, strengthen bones and muscles, enhance mood, lower stress and reduce chances of developing serious health conditions later in life.
Positive habits and routines learned early in life are more likely to stick. So learning to love sport during childhood is more likely to initiate a life-long enjoyment of physical activity and the health benefits that go with it.
It’s important to understand the reasons why a child doesn’t want to play sports as it could be something that’s within your power to change.
Here are a few common reasons why a child might struggle to enjoy sports:
A child may have had a negative experience at a sports club or in training and it carries baggage! Not getting picked for a team, being overlooked in terms of ability or feeling excluded can have a long-lasting negative impact.
This shouldn’t be the case. A reputable sports club or lesson should be inclusive; adapted to the skills and experience of every child in the group. Report unacceptable behaviour and find an environment that is better suited to the temperament of the child.
It shouldn’t be the case but some children may find school PE unexciting. Perhaps the PE teacher is lacking in experience or confidence.
Understandably this can drain a child’s enthusiasm and it’s not their fault – they’ve not been exposed to the joys, endorphins surge, and feeling of accomplishment that comes with sporting participation. It ought to be rewarding, not uninspiring.
It’s worth speaking to your child’s school to understand the strength of its PE provision. You may be able to make suggestions for improvement such as auditing the provision or getting in an external coaching specialist to run curricular PE and extra-curricular clubs.
A child may be disinclined to participate in PE for social reasons, feeling excluded or unwelcome. They may not identify with the other children who play the sport, or not have any friends taking part. Therefore, a little encouragement may be required to help a child to feel more integrated.
No child should be made to feel inadequate or unwelcome when it comes to sport. It’s a universal language and, above all, it should be fun. A good sports coach will integrate all children in the group and encourage them to work with a variety of children in the class to expand their social skills and self-confidence.
Some youth sports environments are competitive and highly driven. Others focus on the recreational and social aspects of playing sports.
Ensure that the environment is conducive to your child’s own measure of success. They may want to learn something technical, they may gravitate to more strenuous or physical activities, or want to play team sports. Some want to be challenged, others will switch off if they’re pushed too much. Get a grasp on the learning environment and make sure it’s well suited to the individual.
If lacking confidence, a child may resist participating in social activities or sports.
It goes without saying, seek professional health if you’re worried about a child’s mental health. This could be the root cause of low self-esteem. However, sometimes a child may just need a little gentle encouragement to try something new – especially if they’re worried they could embarrass themselves or struggle to master it. Playing sports doesn’t just mean joining an organised club – it can be going swimming with friends or booking a tennis court with a family member to have an opportunity to practise one-on-one. This will help to boost confidence and offer an introduction to a sport away from the eyes of peers or teachers.
Here are some tips for encouraging your child to participate in sports.
Explore local sports clubs, youth sports initiatives and after-school clubs to establish what variety is on offer.
Holiday camps can also be a way to experience a wide range of sports and activities, with no commitment.
Or spend some time with your child playing tennis, going swimming or having a game of rounders. However small the steps, the key is getting children to participate in whichever ways are best for them.