Kids' Sports Surprises You Should Know About

Kids' sports have changed a lot in the past generation or two. So even if you played sports yourself when you were a child, you can bet there's a lot to learn as your kids get involved in youth and school sports. Keep little athletes healthier, safer, and happier with this playbook.


There's a Sport for Everyone

Water polo players with ball
Zero Creatives / Getty Images

Kids' sports participation doesn't need to be limited to classics like soccer and swimming (although, of course, those are great picks for some kids). There's a wide range of other options out there: archery, sport stacking, Ultimate, water polo, even Quidditch! And there are also more options than ever before for children with special needs. Help your child make the match and find a sport he'll really enjoy.


It's Not Too Late to Join

It's (almost) never too late for a new sport! Granted, if your 16-year-old wants to be an Olympic gymnast, she has probably missed her window of opportunity. But that doesn't mean she can't take a trapeze or dance class or jump on a trampoline for fun. Kids can take up or try out almost any sport at any age; they just might not reach its highest competitive levels.

If being on a team is what's most important for your child, she can look for less popular sports that really need participants (say, golf), larger teams that welcome everyone (for example, cross-country running) or casual intramural or rec league play (vs. elite competition).


You Need to Be Concussion-Savvy

Unfortunately, concussions are a real risk in many kids' sports—and not just contact sports like football and ice hockey. Kids who play soccer or basketball, ride horses, and even figure skate, may suffer a traumatic brain injury if they fall to the ground or collide with another player. And since the injury is invisible, kids (and supervising adults) may not always realize how severe it is.

Athletes who return to play too soon after a concussion can risk serious complications. And anyone who suffers one concussion may have a harder time recovering from a second or third head injury. So it's important to:

  • know the signs and symptoms of concussion
  • find out what your child's school or league concussion protocol is
  • talk to your child about the importance of reporting any head injury or concussion symptoms
  • get a baseline concussion test for your child if he or she is eligible
  • follow a concussion recovery plan carefully if your child does get injured

Your Sports Kid Still Needs Free Play

Just like adults, kids and teens need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Don't assume that because your child plays youth sports, he's meeting that minimum. He likely isn't at practice every single day, and even an hour-long practice doesn't usually mean 60 full minutes of physical play.

Plus, kids also need unstructured physical play, when they can be creative and not follow rules and do drills like they do in sports practice. So keep your athlete's activity level up with frequent doses of free play and active commuting (like walking or biking to school).


Losing Can Be a Good Thing

Learning to lose with dignity and grace is an important life lesson, and sports is one of the best ways to build this skill. Helping your child learn good sportsmanship is a big part of your job as a parent. Your kids' coaches can be your partner in this effort—as long as you all have the same goal (and that goal is not "winning is everything").


Stretching and Conditioning Is Important

Not just for weekend warriors anymore: Kids can suffer from overuse injuries. For best results and best health, kids should keep their muscles and joints strong and flexible. That means staying fit year-round, not overspecializing or over-training, and stretching after workouts and games. If your child's coach doesn't incorporate stretching into practice time, encourage your athlete to do it on his own.


Your Child Probably Needs Eye Protection

Maybe you knew to watch out for concussions, and your dentist gave you a mouthguard when your child got braces. But what about protecting her vision? Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in American children, and most of those injuries happen when kids are playing sports. Luckily, eye protection is readily available, effective, and (generally) inexpensive, and most eye injuries are preventable. Get those rec specs!


You Will Have to Volunteer

Guess what? Kids' sports participation means parents' participation too. Once your kid gets beyond group swimming class or learn-to-skate lessons and becomes part of a team or club, you're on the hook for volunteer time. That could mean hopping onto the field as a coach or sideline helper; slinging slushies at the concession stand; organizing T-shirt orders or booking hotel rooms for an out-of-town tournament.

Yes, you can sometimes substitute a financial contribution instead. But once you get an idea of how much you'll be spending on sports, you may not want to add to that total. Plus, volunteering shows you're a team player, just like you want your kid to be.


You Don't Have to Be Sporty to Be a Sports Parent

It's okay if your hand-eye coordination hasn't improved since preschool, or you never learned how to ride a bike or swing a tennis racquet. You can still be a role model and your kid's biggest fan! Cheer her on, and ask questions. Coaches, fellow parents, and even your child herself will be happy to answer, and before long you'll feel like part of the team too.

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