Fun, fitness, and skill development are probably the top three reasons for putting your children in organized sports. But there are skills a child can gain from participating in sports that have nothing to do with the sport itself—skills that can serve them well into adulthood. Depending on your child’s personality and interests and what’s available in your area, you can opt for team or individual sports. Both offer enjoyment, improved fitness, and skill development, and there are undoubtedly benefits that carry over into adulthood. With the current use of technology, screen time, and social media, kids may be spending less time engaging with their peers face to face, making the need for participation in team sports more necessary than ever. But even individual sports have something of a convivial aspect to them, particularly in the early years before the focus shifts to competition.
You can lose as a team but win as an individual
In individual sports, a child can achieve a “personal best” regardless of the skill level of others and where the team finishes in the standings. Without teammates to provide a benchmark or push them to do better, participants in individual sports develop intrinsic motivation, which is an invaluable life skill. The child is in control; they can do enough to excel or just enough to have fun. They also learn to handle pressure and being the centre of attention. Children in individual sports also learn to handle their own failures and accept responsibility for them. How well they do is a direct result of the effort they have put into it. This can leave them with a strong sense of accomplishment, not to mention a huge confidence boost.
Individual sports also tend to offer more one on one attention from coaches. This allows a child to work on improving the individual skills of a sport and develop at their own pace. The individual attention can also be beneficial for children who have difficulty maintaining focus in a group setting where a moment of inattentiveness can result in an injury, especially in a contact sport.
Plenty of choices
Team sports have a wide appeal, and with good reason. They usually consist of the most popular sports (soccer, basketball, baseball, softball) and there are often numerous teams available from house league (beginners, non-competitive) to city level teams (fewer, but more competitive leagues). With the exception of sports like hockey and ringette that require more expensive equipment and specialized facilities, team sports are generally more accessible both financially and geographically.
One size fits all – at least in the beginning
While a child with a more independent personality may thrive in team sports, keep in mind that a 5-year-old may not be as aware of their own performance as it relates to others and the end result of the game as perhaps a 9-year-old. They are just happy to be with other kids and hopefully get a treat at the end.
All in it together
Team sports are a great way to encourage cooperation. Sharing responsibility for the outcome of a game can encourage children to be supportive of one another, especially when they’re losing. Research has also shown that being in a group can improve performance, so a team setup can encourage a child to do his or her best.
Marc Faubert (McGill PhysEd ’91), who has been teaching physical education for 24 years attests to the long- and short-term benefits of team sports. “Kids learn time management,” says Marc. In the long term, Marc cites the ability work with colleagues and leadership skills, as some of the skills that carry over into adult life. Having played football all throughout his school days, he has experienced the benefits of team sports firsthand. “Some of the skills that football has helped me with in my adult life have been being on time, and being dedicated to achieve a common goal,” he added.
Are they ready to play?
Whether you choose individual or team sports for your child, it’s important to start when your child is mature enough to participate and to let their temperament and ability guide you in your choice. If it’s your child’s first foray into organized sports, there are a few things to consider: Is your child comfortable being away from you for a couple of hours at a time? Can they listen and take direction from other adults? How does your child handle waiting or taking turns? If you feel your child is ready to be enrolled in organized sports, let fun be the priority. If they’re not enjoying the activity, they may not be ready for it or it may simply be the wrong sport for them. Be prepared for some trial and error and remember there’s no shame in switching sports; trying to keep a child in a sport they don’t like almost always backfires. Just keep it fun and watch your child reap the benefits.