How to Help Your Kids Love Sports

In The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families, journalist Mark Hyman explores how the world of kids’ sports has become more expensive, competitive and commercialized than ever before. Here’s his advice about cutting through the hype and helping your kids develop a healthy relationship to team sports: 

Two themes appear over and over in my books and other writings about youth sports.

Balance is a key. If your child is a champion soccer player – or aspires to be one – allow her to pursue her dream. But remember that kids’ sports are all about recreation, fun, being with friends and learning life lessons. They are not a career path or should not be.

Secondly, sports for kids should always put their needs – developmental and otherwise – first. They should be “Kid-centric.” It sounds obvious. They are, after all, kids’ sports. Yet in an era of adult-managed games, it isn’t always clear. Often, we confuse our ambitions for our kids in sports with what they need and want.

Parents that appreciate the difference are worth writing about. So are those who are focused on improving sports for kids in innovative ways. Here are two notable examples from my books.

Let Them Decide
During the reporting for Until It Hurts, my book about the epidemic of overuse injuries in youth sports, I met Michael Stuart, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Stuart also is Chief Medical Officer for USA Hockey. He has three sons who have played professional hockey, and a daughter who starred on Boston College’s varsity hockey team.

Ice hockey was a daily ritual in the lives of the Stuarts. Yet before the start of each hockey season, Stuart shared me with, “I always made a point of asking each of my children a very important question: “Do you want to play hockey this year?’ The response was always: “Of course, Dad! This is what I was looking forward to.’ I didn’t ask the question, because I didn’t know the answer. I asked so my children would know there was no expectation. It was their choice. The point was made to them. “Gee, I don’t really have to play. Dad is even asking me if I want to.” The bottom line for children, or anyone, playing sports is you have to enjoy it. It’s hard to reach your potential if you’re miserable.”

Use Sports to Teach Life Lessons
While researching The Most Expensive Game in Town, I met Laurie Cronenbold of Newbury Park. California. Unlike many of the business people I had encountered, Laurie impressed me as someone whose first interest was helping kids enjoy sports. Her interests always followed those of her children in sports.

Laurie is a mother of three boys, all fine baseball players. She also is the inventor of the world’s first snap-on (and off) athletic supporter – at least the first snap-off jock to have been blessed by the U.S. Patent Office.

Cronenbold career as an inventor and entrepreneur is entirely an accident. When Tanner, her oldest son, was playing in a youth league in Newbury Park, California, he’d complain after games about his athletic supporter. The undergarment was required for all players in the league as a matter of safety. But it was a pain to wear – literally. The hard plastic cup never quite felt comfortable against his skin, a common complaint of youth players.

Laurie listened and decided to do something about his problem – or try to. She decided to try to design a superior athletic supporter. Her only motive was to ease her son’s discomfort. There was no business plan or revenue model. The idea that she might someday profit from an invention would have been laughable to her.

Today, her product Cupcheck is sold on the company website. She told me that the most important thing for her was to be an example of entrepreneurship and perseverance for her children. “I’m not a business person,” she told me. “I’m a mom. Moms solve problems. I just took this solution a little further than most.”

Follow Mark Hyman on Twitter: @sportsparents.

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Books by Mark Hyman
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