Taking part in extracurricular sports has a range of benefits for children’s wellbeing that extend beyond the positive impact of staying physically active and healthy. A recent study, in fact, found a positive association between children’s participation in sports and their happiness.
If you’re looking to get your child involved in a sport, Sports Direct has partnered with Jo Bidden, founder of Leapfrog Sports, as well as MBACP-accredited counsellor Georgina Sturmer, to uncover six key tips for gently encouraging your child to try new sports and helping them to find something they love and want to stick with.
1. Make being active fun
You can create excitement around the idea of taking part in sports by giving your child the freedom to choose their own sporting equipment, whether that’s choosing their favourite adidas trainers, or picking out their first cricket bat.
Jo says: “Making sports fun is the most important thing. If children have lots of fun playing sports, they will want to do it more. Use exercise as a reward and something for them to look forward to, rather than treating it like a chore that has to be done. Children love playing sports and being active with their parents, so get involved too!”
2. Encourage children to play a range of sports
Don’t feel as though your child needs to find their sport right away; in fact, it can be exciting to try lots of different sports and allow them to experiment with different activities until they find something they choose to stick to.
Jo adds: “This gives them the opportunity to build a range of skills so they become physically literate and find out which sport they have a passion for and want to continue with. You could choose a club where they can try lots of different sports, so if they don’t enjoy a sport one week, it could be different the next time.”
3. Don’t be disheartened if your child doesn’t want to take part
While it might be frustrating if your child doesn’t want to take part in the sports that you’ve signed them up for, it is perfectly ok to allow your child to have some space from an activity they don’t want to participate in.
Jo suggests: “Try to avoid showing frustration in front of your child. Encourage them as best you can, and if possible, try to identify what’s holding them back so you can provide reassurance or discuss it with the coach for their assistance.
“Sometimes, allowing your child to observe and join in when they feel more confident can be helpful. Many clubs offer trial periods, which gives them time to settle in, get to know the routines and coaches, and gradually participate at their own pace.”
4. Know when to stop, but don’t give up too soon
Moving on when something isn’t right is a normal part of life, so don’t let it discourage you if your child wants to quit their sport. However, knowing when to encourage them to stick with it and when to take a break or try something new is important.
Jo says: “Every child will have off days or even off weeks; this can often be because they’re feeling under the weather or due to a big change, such as starting a new school. Don’t give up too soon, as their feelings may only be temporary.
“Chat with the coach to see if anything can be put into place, and also talk with your child to find out if there is a specific reason they aren’t enjoying the sport as much. If after several weeks there is no improvement, it may be time for a break or to explore alternative activities.”
5. Choosing a reputable club
Everyone wants their child to have the best experience possible, but with so many clubs to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start.
Jo shares some key points to look out for in a reputable club: “Look for a club with a regular coach who is there every week. This means you can get to know them, and they will know your child’s likes and dislikes, how to bring the best out in them, and how to build their skills and confidence.
“Ensure that any checks are up-to-date and have been completed, such as DBS, safeguarding, and first aid, so you can be confident your child is in safe hands. The club should readily show you any documentation requested.
“When looking for a club, reading reviews can also provide a good insight into how happy people are and how well any issues are dealt with.”
6. Consider what your motivation is for getting your child involved with sports
Sports Direct also spoke with MBACP-accredited counsellor Georgina Sturmer, who suggests that parents reflect on their goals for wanting their child to get involved with sport to ensure that these align with their child’s personal goals.
Georgina says: “Maybe subconsciously you’re hoping that your child will play for England one day or that they will relive your sporting achievements. These are valid reasons that might motivate you, but remember, it’s not about you.
“It’s important to focus your energy on all the reasons why it’s good for your child to get involved in sport and other activities, including friendship, a sense of achievement, learning how to fail, and developing new skills.”