Summertime is just around the corner, and it’s time for kids to be outside enjoying themselves. Organized sports are often a part of that. Whether you have big dreams for your child’s sports future (college scholarship, pro career) or she has dreams for herself, it’s important not to push too hard too soon. Doing so can cause injury and, perhaps more importantly, can decrease the all-important fun factor.
Most children love to play with a ball even before they can walk. As their bodies mature, they’ll enjoy learning to swim, running short distances, playing physical games like tag in the backyard. Activities like these are great for children’s physical health and for helping them grow into well-rounded people. Staying active prevents obesity, gives a boost to the immune system, improves mental outlook, and fosters the development of social skills (learning to play fair, settling disputes, taking turns, sharing).
Parents should be cautious by not encouraging a child to play one sport to the exclusion of others. Focusing on one sport, whether it’s swimming, soccer, baseball, gymnastics or something else, can lead to specific injuries. Swimmers may develop shoulder problems; gymnasts can damage joints; runners might get shin splints. Keeping a variety of physical activities in a young child’s life enables the whole body to develop, get stronger and more flexible, and decrease the risk for injury.
Eventually your child may decide to specialize in one sport, but doing so too early goes against the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. There’s a great article on the subject here. It’s best for your child’s physical, mental and social development to generalize, try a lot of different sports and activities, and to simply have fun.
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