As an adult and child psychiatrist and as a mom, I believe by encouraging our children to engage in sports we can help set the foundation for overall health, wellbeing and lifelong wellness habits. There is no health without mental health. Regular exercise, good nutrition, and a practice of mindfulness create strong physical and mental wellbeing for all of us and for our children. Let’s think of participating in youth athletics as “mind medicine” and lifestyle wellbeing.
We need to pay attention to each child’s unique neurostyle (the way they perceive and process the world) and natural athletic inclination to help decide what sport or physical activity matches each individual. One size does not fit all. It is important at a young age that you expose your son or daughter to many different choices: swimming, t-ball, basketball, golf, cheerleading, skating, bowling and more. Try individual and team sports and see what sport activity is the best match for your child. Your child might have sensory challenges, behavioral issues, or physical impairments that warrant patience by you as a parent in helping them to find a realistic athletic activity that they enjoy so they can thrive physically and mentally.
Remember it is not about us living vicariously through our children, we need to respect their growth and development as individuals.
I grew up in the mid-west playing sports all year round. My parents encouraged me to sign up for all types of sports starting at age four. I excelled at some and others were not my forte. Swimming and soccer were my favorites. My love of the outdoors and swimming landed me a position as a lifeguard and then pool manager. I learned responsibility, discipline, and stayed active at a young age. I also played starting varsity goalie all four years in high school soccer and was asked to play in college. I was fearless as a goalie but after getting kicked in the mouth I realized the importance of protecting my brain. I knew that I wanted to go into medicine and decided that college soccer did not make sense with my professional goals and politely declined an offer to play.
I am sharing this as I think we need to raise our children to be aware of protecting their brain in any contact sport and to teach safe sport practices when encouraging team and individual sports. It is also important for our developing teens entering adulthood to set their own personal athletic, academic and professional goals for their best life.
It is common for parents, young children, and teens to set high expectations and to dream of playing sports in college and beyond.
According to NCAA.org “of the nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 480,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction with realize their goal of becoming a professional or Olympic athlete. For the rest, the experiences of college athletics and the life lessons they learn along the way will help them as they pursue careers in other fields. Education is a vital part of the college athletics experience, and student-athletes graduate at higher rates than their peers in the student body.”
With this NCAA data in mind, set realistic expectations with your young athlete. A holistic health attitude can be taught at a young age and can last a lifetime. Encourage physical fitness, perseverance, discipline, teamwork, a flexible mindset, good nutrition, sleep habits, and academic excellence. Remind your child that in order to play high school sports, a student athlete has to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA), this is a fantastic way to link good study habits with ability to earn and play sports at a young age. A dream of playing professional sports should not be discouraged, yet realistically discussing all of the benefits of playing sports with our children sets a foundation for success in all areas of their life. Participating in individual or team sports should be fun and set an attitude for life success!
Tips to remember:
- One size does not fit all. Let your child try different sports that are “a match” for their individual needs, skillsets and likes.
- Remember it is not about us living vicariously through our children, we need to respect their growth and development as individuals.
- As a parent you are helping your child to create their “Life Mindset” by encouraging perseverance, discipline, teamwork, a flexible mindset, good nutrition, sleep habits, and academic excellence.
- Staying active, eating healthy and practicing mindfulness are lifelong “holistic health” attitudes and habits to teach our youth athletes.
Cheers to lifelong health and wellbeing!