BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
Last spring, my son surprised me by asking to join a soccer league. This was unexpected because he's not particularly athletic, his requests are usually for things like computer-animation software, and he's never been too fond of the heat. (The families we know with kids in soccer seem to spend their summers broiling on a field somewhere.) In addition, at the time, Son had only recently, tentatively, become interested in running to any degree. Did he understand soccer involved repeated sprints?
This got me pondering how children eventually settle into a favorite sport. Many bounce from activity to activity, going through uniforms, equipment, schedules, etc., before deciding whether Little League or swim team is their true love. Is there a way for parents to guide their children into an activity that's a great match for the kid's strengths and weaknesses? I asked Len Saunders, a childhood obesity speaker and author of "Keeping Kids Fit," to explore this.
Momarama: How can parents match their child's temperament to a sport - for example, are there activities well suited for extroverted versus introverted children?
Saunders: This is an interesting question, as you may think a child who is an extrovert may need to only be on team sports since they are very social. But, the child who is the introvert may also need to be on a sport with other children. Sports is a great way for children to socialize and can be a very positive experience for the introverted child. So basically, I believe any sport can be good for any type of child, especially when placed in the right environment with great teammates and coaches.
Momarama: Can you suggest how to match a child's physical strengths and weaknesses (power versus speed, for example) to a sport? Won't this encourage a kid's love of the activity in the long term?
Saunders: Once again ... any sport can benefit any child. To say one sport will benefit a child because he is overweight, therefore he must participate in a sport that requires no speed, would go against parental logic to me. When kids pick a sport, it will most likely be based on their interest, degree of success, whether they find it fun and easy to socialize in, and whether it's age- and skill-appropriate.
The main thing to remember: Most kids are not Olympic athletes. So if they benefit in sports by improved fitness levels, cognitive skills, social skills or confidence, the child and parents both win.
Momarama: How much involvement do various team sports require of the parents, in terms of voluntary coaching, game/practice schedule, concession-stand duty, etc? Should parents new to children's sports be aware of certain activities' time commitment from the parents?
Saunders: All sports require a commitment from the parent in some form. And yes, specific levels of sport will consume more time. Travel basketball will have more games than rec ball, take more time traveling and cost more. Parental involvement also varies as some will coach, be the taxi driver, assist with practices or nothing at all. It is all what you make of it.
Momarama: In this economy, what about financial concerns? Which sports tend to be inexpensive and which run to the pricey side?
Saunders: Sport teams in may cases are seasonal and less expensive. But some parents may take it to another level. For example, although Little League may only be a couple of months, a parent may enroll their child in 'fall ball' or sign them up for clinics or individualized instruction. So again, it is what you make of it. Sports as hobbies can be pricey, as they are year-long. If a child participates in karate, this goes all year, with monthly payments.
What sports do your children play, and why? Join the conversation at blogs.inlandsocal.com/moms, PE.com or Momarama's page on Facebook. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Momarama shares readers' emailed comments with their permission.