How to pick the ‘right’ sport for your child (and the case for letting them choose)
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For Melbourne dad Ben May choosing a sport for his kids was as simple as not choosing at all.
Instead, he handballed the decision to his boys, Tom and Luke.
Ben and his partner knew they wanted their kids involved with sports, knowing the benefits of exercise on physical and mental health.
But the question of which sport? For these young parents, it didn’t matter.
Instead, they offered their kids variety, and each of their kids took a liking to something different.
“[Tom] was focused on basketball from very early on, loved it and didn’t want to do anything else,” Ben says.
“While younger brother Luke trialled a variety of sports: karate, rounders, cricket, soccer, football and tennis,” Ben says.
According to the experts we spoke to, it’s a good play.
Giving your kids the option to choose a sport is a great way to get them involved, but there are a few more things to consider.
I spoke to a dad, a child psychologist and the NSW department of sport to get their perspectives on how to choose the right sport for your child and what to look out for.
Guide to choosing the best type of exercise
So you want to feel healthy and fitter. But what if you don’t know what exercise is right for you?
It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re trying
Father of four Barry Nicholls is a radio presenter, a journalist and a former PE teacher from Perth.
As a teacher, Barry learnt it’s important to give kids every opportunity to learn a whole range of sports.
“If they take an interest in one and enjoy it, great!” he says.
“As long as they’re trying and doing the right thing by their teammates, that’s enough for me,” he says.
Sydney child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien agrees, and says when it comes to choosing a sport for your child, a variety is best, particularly early on.
But let’s be real. Choices are going to be limited by things like family commitments, distance from home and fees.
Most Australian states offer some subsidies to parents to help cover the cost of registration and membership fees for sporting programs.
Support and subsidies by state:
- NSW: Active Kids
- QLD: FairPlay
- WA: KidSport
- SA: Sports Vouchers
- NT: Sport voucher scheme
ACT, VIC and TAS currently don’t have subsidies.
Other considerations might include the distance you need to travel and the number of hours you’re prepared to commit.
“I’ll admit, weekends are pretty hectic, and some are worse than others,” says Barry.
Team sport vs individual sport
If your child is a little more introverted, Dr O’Brien doesn’t recommend starting with a team sport.
“There’s a lot more noise and yelling from teammates, coaches and parents on the sideline,” Dr O’Brien says.
And that sensory overload can be really daunting for some kids.
With individual sports like tennis, gymnastics or athletics, kids can focus on skill building in a smaller setting without the pressure of interacting with many people at once.
“On the other hand, some kids thrive in noisy environments and can benefit greatly from team sports, like basketball, for example,” Dr O’Brien says.
Is tennis for you?
Tennis will help not only keep you physically fit but mentally strong too.
What if my kids don’t enjoy sports?
If your child doesn’t take an immediate liking to sport, it’s important not to press the issue.
Dr O’Brien says the psychological pressure of trying to please a parent is exhausting for young people. It can also have a detrimental effect on their desire to participate.
“They’re individuals and their interests should be nurtured,” Dr O’Brien says.
Kids who have broad interests are more likely to want to try new things, but if your child is anxious or shy, Dr O’Brien suggests easing them into an activity.
“Maybe pick up a flyer in week one, walk past the oval the following week, speak to a teacher or coach with your child the week after that, and maybe do a trial class the week after that,” Dr O’Brien says.
Physical health and development are achieved through sport, and Dr O’Brien says that kids generally like feeling strong and fast.
“It’s good for their self-esteem,” she says.
But for building important skills like resilience, teamwork and confidence, you can do that just as well by joining different clubs that might interest them.
“Things like chess, debating and anywhere they can be around other kids,” Dr O’Brien says.
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What to look for
When deciding on a sports program for your child, the Office of Sport NSW recommends looking for programs that:
You already know the benefits of sport, but how do you choose one for your child? Here’s what you should consider.