Is competitive sport good for kids?

Should you sign up your little tacker in a local sports team? Should you encourage competitive sport at all?

There are arguments for and against kids competing in competitive sport.

Sport offers invaluable life lessons in handling defeat, working under pressure, self-discipline, and learning how to handle positive and negative emotions.

Teacher and coach, Vince Massara, says competition fosters resilience.

“Children learn vital resilience strategies through all aspects of competition. They also learn how to work in groups, and as a teacher, I have found that students who regularly compete in sport are used to setting goals, recovering from setbacks, and taking feedback.”

Self-proclaimed entrepreneur and founder of several health and fitness businesses, Travis Jones, says competitive sport was critical to his own success.

“In my opinion, so much of how I approach life and business was formed from competitive sport. The importance of supporting a team, leadership skills, learning to lose and good sportsmanship comes from sport. You understand what it takes to win, gain confidence, and build a ‘never give up’ attitude.”

The life skills that little ones can develop through sport are enhanced due in part to the social element of organised team sport.

We know physical activity improves mood and helps keep us fit and healthy—which is great for our overall wellbeing. Sport also promotes the growth of healthy bones and muscles.

So far, so good.

Encouraging positive participation in sport is important if you also consider that nine out of 10 teenagers in Australia are not meeting Australian Physical Activity Guidelines.

So why wouldn’t we let out kids run amok on the field?

Some people say that young children shouldn’t play competitive sport.

“Very young children should be having fun and developing basic motor skills playing unorganised sport,” says Associate Professor Rochelle Eime, lead author of a study of 14,000 girls in sport.

The study found that of the girls who began sport at ages four or five, 60 per cent dropped out within four years. But of those who started sport later, only 30 per cent didn’t continue.

Starting kids too early and pushing them too hard is a formula for failure and takes the enjoyment out of the game.

Jones says on the point of kids being overworked and becoming overly-competitive, “I don’t think the sports do that, the parents or coaches do that. Kids can’t feel overworked, unless they are being pushed.”

Practice, practice, practice

Smarter practice and training is better than more practice and training. Making practice fun and full of variety is actually going to better develop your child’s skills.

Prioritising fun and safety in competitive sports for kids is going to help ensure they remain engaged in the game, creating a more productive and enjoyable environment for them to learn and play.

And finally, make the goal ‘personal best’ rather than ‘winning’. It’s a much healthier and productive mindset for young competitors.