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What Can Parents Do When Kids Don't Like Sports?

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Question: What Can Parents Do When Kids Don't Like Sports?
Does your child show a dislike for sports, or flat-out announce that he hates them? Has your teen suddenly renounced a sport she once liked? What can you do to encourage kids who say they don't like sports?
Answer:

The answer to this question is another question, or several. Try to determine why your child doesn't like sports. Through observation, discussion with other adults (such as caregivers, teachers, and coaches), and conversation with your child, see if you can discern a reason for his dislike. Has he always felt this way, or is this a recent change of heart?

  • Is he frustrated by a lack of skills, ability, or progress?
  • Is he being bullied by a teammate?
  • Is she feeling too much pressure to succeed or compete at a high level?
  • Is his coach unfair or too competitive?
  • Is he still looking for a sport he enjoys?
  • Is she self-conscious about her weight, body, or performance?
  • Does she have a physical condition that is causing pain or discomfort?

Encourage a Kid Who Doesn't Like Sports

Once you have an idea of the underlying problem, you can work to address it. If your child is unhappy with the sport she's currently playing, you can help her find something that's a better fit--maybe an individual sport instead of a team one, or vice versa. Encourage her to keep trying different things; that's the best way to find a winner. If she likes the sport she's been playing, but doesn't like her coach or teammates, or she feels too much pressure to win, maybe she can switch to a more casual rec league or club, or simply take a break for a short time to catch her breath.

If you suspect bullying by a teammate is to blame for a sudden dislike of sports, don't hesitate to act. Talk to your child's coach about the situation. If it isn't resolved quickly and satisfactorily, go up the chain of command, and pull your child off the team if necessary. His emotional health is more important than finishing the season.

If your child complains of pain or discomfort during or after sports, or you've observed symptoms such as trouble breathing, have her examined by your family doctor. She may have an undiagnosed injury or a condition, such as asthma, that makes it difficult for her to exercise. (Difficult, but not impossible; your doctor can help with treatments or therapies to allow your child to enjoy sports again.)

If you're dealing with a child who is frustrated or disappointed with his own skills or abilities, you have a couple of options. First, empathize with his feelings instead of minimizing them. Then brainstorm some ways to help. Does he need more coaching, or practice at home, or some different equipment? Does he need some coping skills for intimidating situations, like being all alone at the free-throw line? Would he be more suited for a different style of play (say, distance running vs. sprints) or even a different sport altogether?

Especially during puberty, both boys and girls can feel self-conscious about their bodies. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise can actually help with this, so keep up the positive reinforcement and look for other ways to encourage physical activity in your teen.

In every case, remember that winning games and competitions or playing on a team is not the end goal. Helping your child find physical activities that she enjoys and sticks with is.

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