Home Child Development Who should choose the sport? Parent or child

Who should choose the sport? Parent or child


There is not an easy answer and it depends on your child. Does your child have endless energy and is open to trying new things like six-year-old Sarah or does your child choose not to participate in sports like Anthony, the 8-year-old who prefers to read and play video games. Studies show that inactive kids are more likely to experience obesity and depression so keeping your child active is essential and allowing your child to choose their activity can create the foundation for their experience.

In our national research on youth soccer (kids ages 7-14), we learned:

  • Up to 27% of kids reported that it was either their mother or father who most wanted them to play.
  • These same kids were most concerned about their parents yelling at them during games.
  • Kids who most wanted to play reported greater importance on having fun and learning skills.
  • Parents who most want their children to play were more likely to care about their child’s performance, amount of playing time and winning games.

Encouraging children to play sports is an important step that we highly endorse. Here lies the problem. Children who feel that they are playing for their parents instead of themselves are at risk of feeling increased pressure and may drop out.  The parent’s role is to help their child discover the type of sports that would bring the most enjoyment.

As parents, we have to ask ourselves are we truly comfortable if our child chooses one sport over the other? “Terry, I’m fine that you choose to play soccer instead of football.” Seeing his son as a separate individual with his own path and goals is important to the child’s development but may be difficult for the parent. In the end, however, if your child is allowed to choose they will gain more joy from the sport experience and are more likely to participate for longer than if they are forced to play.

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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.