How Parents Can Help Their Children Build a Healthy Relationship with Sports

How parents can help their children build a healthy relationship with sports

June 19 2024

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Youth sports provide a multifaceted platform for children's holistic development. Beyond the evident physical benefits of improved cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and coordination, participation in sports has been linked to enhanced mental well-being. New research suggests that regular physical activity through sports can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents. Moreover, engaging in team sports fosters crucial social skills such as communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution.

It has also been observed that participation in team sports during childhood has long-term positive effects on leadership abilities and social integration in adulthood. Despite these advantages, the manner in which children interact with sports profoundly influences their overall experience and continued participation. As a parent, your guidance and support are instrumental in shaping your child's perception of sports.

Here are several strategies supported by credible research to cultivate a positive and enduring relationship between your child and sports.

1. Focus on fun and enjoyment

One of the primary reasons children participate in sports is to have fun. According to a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, enjoyment is a significant predictor of long-term sports participation in youth. Emphasize the joy of playing rather than the outcome of the game. Celebrate their efforts, skills, and improvements rather than just wins or losses. Creating a fun environment helps children develop a lifelong love for sports.

2. Encourage a growth mindset

Teaching children to have a growth mindset—believing that abilities and skills can be developed through hard work and dedication—can greatly impact their sports experience. Research by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that a growth mindset fosters resilience and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Encourage your child to view challenges as opportunities to improve and to appreciate the effort they put into their sport, not just the results.

3. Prioritize skill development over competition

While competition can be motivating, an overemphasis on winning can lead to stress and burnout. A study in The Sport Psychologist found that focusing on skill development and personal improvement can enhance children's intrinsic motivation. Help your child set personal goals related to skill development and celebrate those achievements. This approach helps them build confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

4. Foster a balanced lifestyle

It's essential for children to have a balanced lifestyle that includes time for school, family, friends, and rest, in addition to sports. Overtraining and specialization in a single sport at a young age can lead to burnout and injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should take at least one day off per week from organized sports and have breaks throughout the year. Encourage your child to try multiple sports and activities to develop a well-rounded skill set and avoid burnout.

5. Be a positive role model

Children often emulate their parents' attitudes and behaviors. Show a positive attitude towards sports, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Demonstrate good sportsmanship, respect for coaches and officials, and a balanced approach to competition. Your behavior and attitudes can significantly influence your child's perception and experience of sports.

6. Support without pressuring

Support your child by attending their games, providing encouragement, and showing interest in their activities. However, it's crucial to avoid pressuring them to perform or live up to unrealistic expectations. A study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that parental pressure can negatively impact children's enjoyment and performance in sports. Let your child take the lead in their sports journey, and be there to support them unconditionally.

7. Promote healthy body image and self-esteem

Sports can positively influence a child's body image and self-esteem, but they can also lead to body image issues if not handled carefully. Encourage your child to appreciate what their body can do rather than how it looks. Avoid making negative comments about their or others' bodies. Promote a healthy diet and exercise habits for performance and well-being rather than appearance.

8. Encourage teamwork and social skills

Sports provide an excellent opportunity for children to develop teamwork and social skills. Emphasize the importance of being a good teammate, communicating effectively, and respecting others. These skills are valuable both on and off the field and contribute to a positive sports experience.


Helping your child build a healthy relationship with sports is about fostering enjoyment, a growth mindset, skill development, balance, and positive attitudes. By focusing on these aspects, you can ensure that your child not only benefits from the physical and mental advantages of sports but also develops a lifelong love and healthy approach to physical activity. Remember, your support and attitude play a crucial role in shaping their sports experience. With your guidance, they can enjoy all the wonderful benefits that sports have to offer.

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