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Sports for Kids: How to Raise a Sporty Kid

From the moment she could hoist herself up, my daughter Layla has loved to climb. She's as happy hanging from the monkey bars as she is swinging on a doorknob. Her twin brother, Nolan, is far more contemplative. He takes the time to line up a ball before he kicks it and carefully studies the fastest way to get down a playground slide. But they share one key thing in common: They both love to move.

I'm not trying to raise an Olympic gymnast or a future major leaguer. But in light of our nation's scary childhood obesity crisis–the rate more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 and tripled for 6- to 11-year-olds since 1980–I want to instill in my kids a lasting love of physical activity.

The Perks of Playing Sports

In our screen-time world, it’s extra appealing to see your kid get fresh air and exercise, and to challenge herself to try new things. Studies show that the benefits of organized sports have a ripple effect throughout life: Athletic kids generally have a more positive body image, get better grades in middle school and high school, and are less likely to do drugs. “Even for younger kids, sports can teach lessons that can’t be learned in the classroom,” says Daniel Gould, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. “Kids can become better communicators, develop a strong work ethic, and learn real teamwork.”

Kid Sports and Competition

The sports scene has definitely changed in the past few decades, and you might not recognize some of the major players. Your best friend’s dad who volunteered to coach your soccer team may have been replaced by a fully paid trainer. Travel teams are starting younger and younger, and there’s no longer a basketball season and a baseball season—sports for kids are played all year round.

“Many parents believe that having their child start early and train with the best coaches year-round will help him maximize his chances of success,” says Brooke de Lench, executive director of MomsTEAM Institute, a youth-sports advocacy group, and author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports. 

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