Sports and your child: Make it positive

ESCANABA – Physical activity is crucial for good health and maintaining a normal weight. And individual and team sports teach children an array of skills and personal qualities, such as hard work, discipline, motivation, commitment, cooperation, leadership and teamwork. As with anything, though, moderation is key.

Following are some general recommendations that will help you as your child grows:

CHILDREN UNDER SIX are not really ready to follow rules and understand the cause and effect relationships of team sports.

Activities at this age should be fun and easy going with parents offering a lot of support and praise. Some children are not as coordinated nor as interested, and introducing them to these activities early and often is not necessarily going to make them proficient.

Expecting too much, too early is only going to cause them frustration. Children at this age are looking for fun and adult praise. Save the coaching for later.

AT AGES 6 TO 9, a child has a longer attention span and is better able to follow directions and learn some rules.

She may be ready to join an organized activity such as T-ball or soccer, but, again, the emphasis should be on fun and allowing the child to develop at her own pace. Contact sports such as football are generally not recommended at these ages since most children have not had time to develop the proper skills and may be at risk from those who are bigger and have developed better skills. Pediatricians have noted an increase in head injuries among youth football players at this age level.

AT AGES 10 TO 12, a child has usually developed mature vision and is able to take on sports that require complex skills – basketball, hockey, volleyball and football. Particularly at these ages, the focus should be on sportsmanship and team play. Each child should have a chance to participate.

The choice of sport is probably less important than the approach of a program. Coaches and volunteers should have experience working with children and, preferably, some training in education or child development. But parent coaches and volunteers can also be good at working with kids.

Puberty may create dramatic growth spurts that can be misleading. A child is suddenly almost as big as an adult but has not yet developed proper coordination and balance. Parents sometimes squabble between themselves about whether a child should play football. Take into consideration the child’s age, size and maturity compared to those he or she will be playing against.

WHICH SPORT? Overzealous parents often push their child into specializing too early in one sport. This should come no earlier than age 12; and, then, only if the child is particularly enthused about that sport.

Before that, children should be encouraged to try out a number of activities, choosing those that click with his or her personality and developmental level.

Some sports such as tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics, ice skating, skiing and snow boarding are done individually, although often in a group or team setting (such as a school tennis team). Team sports include soccer, hockey, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse and field hockey.

Some advise parents to encourage their children to participate in one team and one individual sport each year, at least at first.

As children get older and more accomplished in one or more sports, the risk of injury escalates.

Overuse injuries are prevalent and can be particularly dangerous in young athletes with growing bones. It’s important for them not to ignore pain or try to “work through it.”

The report recommends that youth have at least one day off each week from organized physical activity and two to three months away from their particular sports.

Children who are talented enough and choose to take their activity to another level, playing on school, travel or AAU teams, should be applauded and supported. It’s important, though, that the major impetus for doing so comes from the child.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Health Update appears weekly in the Daily Press and features local health professionals. Dr. Kasetty is a board certified pediatrician with OSF St. Francis Medical Group. He sees patients in Suite 103 of the OSF Medical Office Building.