Participating in sports is one of the most valuable learning experiences that a child can have, especially as they grow into their teenage years and build friendships. Unfortunately, many teens have only really grown up knowing the few most-watched sports on television: soccer, baseball, football, hockey, etc. They form an opinion that they are just not an athlete or are not the sporting type.
These views cause kids all over the United States to deny themselves of these social experiences and competitive exposure. However, choosing the right sport can be just as important as playing a sport at all. If your teenager 5'3" and has a stout build and slow reflexes, then pushing them into basketball will feel like torture for them, and they may even lose self-confidence and avoid social interaction on the team.
However, let's separate this from a teen with the same attributes who enjoys playing basketball and puts in the practice to excel anyway. If they love a sport, don't question it, but it may be better to help steer your child toward a sport that best suits their talents and abilities if they don't gravitate toward one particular sport.
Team vs. Individual Sports
There is a big difference between playing a team sport and playing an individual sport. Team sports are a lot more attractive to the "social butterfly" who enjoys making friends and building camaraderie with others. Extroverts usually enjoy being part of a team. Many young athletes find it very rewarding to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Few things in life can rival the excitement of being able to celebrate a hard-earned victory with your teammates.
Notably, team sports typically need to have many other people involved to practice necessary skills, and the workouts tend to be more structured. Wide receivers can't run routes without a quarterback. Volleyball players don't know how well their sets are coming along if no one is there to spike it. They also rely heavily on coaching cues and feedback to improve.
On the other hand, individual sports are often more attractive to introverted people who want wins and losses due to their abilities, not someone else's. Individual sports sync up well with young athletes who value personal achievement and have a strong work ethic and intrinsic motivation to practice, even when no one else is around. They are willing to put in the work for a sport that is important to them and fine-tune their skills.
In the end, there is a particular indescribable pride associated with besting your opponent all on your own. The flip-side being, there is no one to blame except for yourself for a tough loss. Many times, in individual sports, the stakes can feel higher. If you have a bad game, there are no teammates there to pick up the slack.
Regardless, both team and individual sports teach invaluable lessons that will last a lifetime. You learn a lot from winning, and you learn even more from losing. It can be tough watching your child experience a rough loss in their sport, but keep in mind that it is all a part of life. Losing in a game builds mental toughness and resiliency in a low-stakes environment that feels like a high-stakes competition at the time. Nothing in life can replicate that important experience.
Choosing a Sport Based on Body Type
There a wide array of sports where physical attributes can play just as large a role in success as dedication and hard work. These sports tend to be more fun and easier to become competent at for young athletes who fit that build. Typical examples are sports like basketball and volleyball, where height and the ability to jump high give you a huge advantage over shorter competitors. Practice pays off quicker for these athletes as they already have a leg up, so they gain confidence and have fun with the sport quicker than most. A good goal is to introduce your child to a sport where they will excel quicker.
Speed and quickness show up in many sports where a lean muscular build is a combination that triumphs. When you think of soccer or tennis players, most of them are about average height, but they have a combination of strength and speed that starts as a jumping-off point for the skill and technique they develop through experience and practice.
Children who are naturally flexible and have a smaller frame tend to find themselves able to progress well in gymnastics. However, not all differences are based entirely around height. Young athletes who are built bigger, typically build strength quicker and find weightlifting to be in their skillset. Meanwhile leaner, lighter athletes have a leg-up in numerous track and field events.
Many sports have advantages and disadvantages to height and size. A large running back might be hard to tackle in football but will likely not run as fast, and vice versa. In tennis, height helps you rocket a serve over the net but makes getting to those low shots a bit more difficult.
If you find a particular sport that your child will be interested in and one that they may have a natural tendency to excel at, take time to teach them all about it. Show them footage of athletes that they resemble to inspire them to work to improve.
Alternatively, some sports are designed where physiological differences play little to no part in how well an athlete performs. Sports like bowling and golf offer all of the same lessons and enjoyment of sports that reward natural athleticism without giving anyone a genetic advantage. These sports take just as much time and effort to become great and require the same dedication and practice as other sports. Practice and effort are the great equalizers for these sports so that it just isn't in others.
The Physicality of Sports
Physicality is a big deciding factor when it comes to specific sports. If your child plays rough with neighborhood kids or enjoys wrestling around with siblings, that may be a clue that they would feel more comfortable in contact sports than most. Not to be too obvious, but organized wrestling falls into this category. Football and hockey, of course, come to mind as well. Young athletes who enjoy these two tend to dedicate themselves to it and enjoy it. However, the drawback is that many parents don't feel comfortable due to the injury risks associated with most positions.
A physical sport that has little risk of injury and is often overlooked is martial arts training. Sparring is seldom done in a way where any real harm can be done, and your child learns how to defend themselves, develop strength, and improve coordination properly. Developing this competence can mean the world to a child.
Many sports aren't typically thought of as sports that require a good deal of physicality, but in fact, do have an element of it during games. Soccer, lacrosse, and basketball involve using your body as one of the tools you have to block out an opponent or shoulder them away from the ball. Collisions happen quite a bit as well and can be disorienting or shocking if your child is not expecting that kind of interaction from the sport.
School vs. Recreational Sports
School sports tend to be more fun for those who are competitive and excel at the sport, but recreation leagues exist for many skill levels and are more about having fun. If your child wants to play a sport they enjoy, but don't want to stress over letting their team down, rec. Sports may be a good option. The plus side, they get to meet people outside of those they see every day at school, building new friendships and a new social group.
The bottom line is this: There's a sport out there for everyone. The psychological and emotional benefits that sports have on developing minds cannot be overstated. Camaraderie, competition, and dedication to improving are vital to children and teens' healthy mind and mental well-being. The right sport that they enjoy can become a lifelong hobby that helps them relieve stress or just a simple pleasure that helps keep them sane. It's not about turning pro, it's about being the best and happiest version of yourself.
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