Involve all children in healthy organized sports recommends American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in an updated clinical report has laid emphasis on enjoyment of sports -- instead of winning -- as the ultimate goal. The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, also provides guidance for paediatricians on counseling parents and advocating for healthy organized sports participation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends finding ways to include all kids in organized sports, irrespective of the skill level required in the sports.
Organized sport, defined as physical activity that is directed by adult or youth leaders and involves rules and formal practice and competition, has become a large part of children’s and adolescents’ lives over recent decades and has contributed to many positive outcomes. Health benefits from physical activity and organized sports participation may include better overall mental health in young adolescents, higher bone mineral density in adult women who spent more time playing sports at 12 years of age, and a decrease in cardiovascular risk, overweight, and obesity in elementary schoolchildren.
"Organized sports participation can be an important part of overall childhood and adolescent physical, emotional, social, and psychological health," write the authors.
“If we offer children a variety of sports for all skill levels, they are more likely to try new activities and stick with the ones they enjoy,” said Kelsey Logan, MD, FAAP, an author of the clinical report by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “The interest should start with the child, not the parent."
Most children are ready to play organized sports at about age 6, according to AAP. Before that, young children should spend an ample amount of time daily in free play. Running, leaping and climbing are examples of free play that help children develop motor skills needed for organized sports participation.
Some other key recommendations:
- Preschools and elementary schools can positively influence long-term participation in organized sports, physical activity and cardiovascular health.
- Junior high and high schools should offer multiple levels of sports play, which will help retain athletes who cannot or do not want to compete at very high levels.
- Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may face obstacles such as a lack of transportation to participate in activities. Community groups can help by identifying those needs and finding ways to support families and provide sports opportunities.
- Parent support should be general and positive. Forcing sports participation is not likely to help the child achieve long-term benefits.
- Parents are encouraged to ask questions about sports programs to ensure a safe environment, including questions about hiring procedures, codes of conduct and communication between coach and athlete.
- Coaches who view organized sports with a respectful, development- and fun-focused approach are more likely to have athletes who enjoy and stay in sports.
They further found that:
- Organized sports participation can be an important part of overall childhood and adolescent physical, emotional, social, and psychological health.
- Supervised motor skill acquisition in preschool and elementary school positively influences long-term participation in organized sports, physical activity, and cardiovascular health.
- Children need a daily opportunity for free play to develop the motor skills needed for organized sports participation.
- Bullying and hazing are common among young athletes, and it will likely be the responsibility of coaches and team leaders to decrease such practices.
- Adolescent athletes appear less likely to smoke cigarettes and use most other illegal drugs but are more likely to consume alcohol and use performance-enhancing substances, such as steroids.
- The youth of all ages involved in organized sports have higher levels of energy expenditure and physical activity than their nonathletic peers, and sports may be an important way to combat obesity.
- Sports participation in some youth who are medically at risk is shown to improve well-being. This improvement in well-being is particularly evident for Special Olympics participation, for children with developmental disabilities, and for children with neurologic disabilities.
- Sports participation helps athletes develop self-esteem, correlates positively with overall mental health, and appears to have a protective effect against suicide.
- Involvement in sports, particularly as a member of a sports team, is an integral way for youth to develop psychosocially and help form their social identity.
- Unhealthy attitudes or behaviors on the part of parents and coaches can decrease the young athlete’s enjoyment of sports and contribute to burnout.
- Positive coaching is an important facet of organized sports. Coaches who approach organized sports with a respectful, development- and fun-focused approach to practices and performance are more likely to have athletes who enjoy and stay in organized sports.
- Parents are essential in creating safe environments in youth sports, especially in regard to preventing abuse. Parents can ask questions of both schools and youth sports organizations about hiring procedures, codes of conduct, and communication between coach and athlete.
- Parental support for organized sports participation in general and positive support are important influencers of whether a child enjoys and continues organized sports. This is true for youth with disabilities as well as for all youth. However, forcing organized sports participation is not likely to have long-term benefits.
- Community organizations can promote organized sports participation by identifying and promoting ways to support families with low SES.
- Participation in school-sponsored organized sports, relative to the entire student body, is low. Schools play a role in increasing organized sports participation by offering multiple levels of play at the junior high and high school levels, thereby retaining those athletes who do not desire to or cannot compete at high levels but want to remain involved in sports.
For full recommendations follow the link: doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-0997