Healthy Families

Family Focus - Sports & School: A Balancing Act

Family Focus - Sports & School: A Balancing Act

By Carol Boughner

Active children are more likely to mature into physically active adults. Benefits of sport and physical activity for children include reduced risk of obesity, increased cardiovascular fitness, improved coordination and balance, better sleep and improved social skills. Reducing sedentary time may be as important for health as increasing exercise time. Best of all, getting moving is fun.

Youth sports today are quite different than they were when we were young. With travel teams and year-round participation, it's very easy for you and your child to get caught up in the time commitments needed to excel in sports -- and sometimes at the expense of school studies or other important developmental life experiences.

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As you examine your child's sport schedule, take time to consider how much of his or her schedule should be devoted to sports, school and other growth opportunities. Balance is key. Children who distribute their time and energy more equally between sports, school, the arts and various other social endeavors are often happier, more confident and well-rounded.

Introduce your children to "life-long" sports such as golf, tennis, racquetball, cycling, sailing, rock climbing, jogging, kayaking, rowing, or canoeing. Participate with your children in activities like bike riding, hiking, skating, sailing, and running. Encourage them to play different sports and avoid early specialization. They may be less likely to become burned out, leaving them more energized, confident and interested in the various things they do.

Look for leagues and clubs that balance sports, family and school life. Make sure the program emphasizes having fun more than winning. Children shouldn't be penalized for missing practice because of a test, school trips, or family activities such as weddings or birthdays. Also, playing sports is a privilege. Your child must maintain a certain level of academic success, or accomplish specific goals at home, in order to play sports, and parents have to enforce that responsibility.

Explain to your child why a healthy balance between sports and school is important for future life success. As your child begins to master time management and organization skills, note all of his or her accomplishments. Help your child identify and use athletic-transferable skills. Most kids take for granted or don't understand how setting goals, handling adversity, getting focused and motivated for competition and working together on a team are valuable life lessons. Help your child use these same skills, as well as the countless other athletic-transferable skills your child is learning through sports, and apply them to the classroom for academic success.

It is possible to create balance within your family's everyday life, even with children who participate in sports. But it is up to the parents to make certain that your children don't over schedule and that they establish the right priorities.