Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

July 2019

Nation's Pediatrics: Put More Emphasis on Enjoyment of Sports

By Dave Ramont

When young children play organized sports, it can lead to long-lasting health benefits for their bodies and minds, as well as improving their self-esteem. And when the focus is on kids having fun during these pursuits—instead of just winning—they're more likely to stay involved in athletic programs and keep physically fit throughout childhood. This is the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recently published a clinical report "Organized Sports for Children, Preadolescents and Adolescents" in the June 2019 issue of Pediatrics. The report suggests that pediatricians can advise families through conversations, while detailing ways to include more children—including teens—in sports.

The report encourages families—and communities—to place more emphasis on the enjoyment of sports. "If we offer children a variety of sports for all skill levels, they are more likely to try new activities and stick with the ones they enjoy," said Kelsey Logan, M.D., FAAP and co-author of the report by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Logan suggested that families can help by encouraging kids to sample different sports so that they can figure out what they find enjoyable. "Ideally, there is an activity for everyone, with the focus on having fun."

Logan advises that the interest should start with the child, not the parent. According to AAP, most children are ready to play organized sports around the age of 6. Previous to that, young children should engage in free play on a daily basis. Running, climbing and jumping can help kids develop the necessary motor skills for playing organized sports.

Preschools and elementary schools can have a positive influence on long-term participation in physical activity, organized sports and cardiovascular health, according to AAP. They also recommend that junior highs and high schools offer multiple levels of sports play, which will keep those athletes involved who aren't interested in competing at higher levels. Additionally, they say that coaches are more likely to have athletes who stay in sports longer if they adopt a respectful and fun-focused approach to coaching.

AAP also recommends that parental support should be general and positive, since forcing sports participation is unlikely to help a child achieve long-term benefits. Parents are also encouraged to ask questions about sports programs to help ensure a safe and inviting environment. This might include questions about codes of conduct, hiring procedures and communication between coaches and athletes.

Since some children—particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—may face obstacles, such as a lack of transportation to participate in activities, community groups can help by identifying those needs. This can help to support families and provide sports opportunities.

Sports participation can improve well-being in certain youth who may be medically at-risk, and it has also been associated with improved mental health. "Young athletes typically learn skills and values that they can use in everyday life," said Steven Cuff, M.D., FAAP and co-author of the AAP report. "The camaraderie and teamwork needed on a playing field offers lasting lessons on personal responsibility, sportsmanship, goal-setting and emotional control."

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