Compare the options

When you're comparing sports, consider:

  • How much will your child enjoy the activity?
  • Does the sport emphasize age-appropriate skill development?
  • Will there be opportunities for each child to participate?

Think twice before encouraging early specialization in a single sport. Focusing on one sport could prevent your child from testing his or her skills and experiencing other enjoyable sports. Sports specialization can also lead to stress and burnout.

Stay involved

As your child tries various sports, stay involved. Consider:

  • Safety. Look for an emphasis on safety. Does the coach require that players follow the rules and use proper safety equipment? Do players take time to warm up and cool down before and after each practice or event? In hot weather, does the coach pay attention to hydration, humidity and temperature? Are children taught proper movement and body positioning? Is the coach attentive to the prevention and recognition of concussions?
  • Coaching style. Consider a coach's attitude toward the game. How much does each child play and how is playing time determined? If a coach consistently yells at the children or lets only the most skilled players into the game, your child might become discouraged. Beware of a win-at-all-costs attitude.

Overall, be positive and encouraging. Emphasize effort, improvement and enjoyment over winning or personal performance. Attend events and practices as your schedule allows, and act as a good model of sportsmanship yourself.

Of course, organized athletics aren't the only option for fitness. If your child doesn't seem interested in sports, find other physical activities — especially ones that are sustainable over a lifetime. Take family bike rides, check out local hiking trails or visit indoor climbing walls. Encourage active time with friends, such as jumping rope, shooting baskets or playing tag. You can even encourage fitness through video games that involve high intensity dancing, virtual sports or other types of movement.

Whether your child swims, runs track or bikes around the neighborhood, keep your eye on the long-term goal — a lifetime of physical activity.

Aug. 07, 2013 See more In-depth