Team sports are an integral piece of American childhood. Approximately 35 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 play some kind of organized sport every year. When you include those who play sports outside of the school system, that number increases to around 60 percent of all children. Unfortunately, not all children feel comfortable in a team environment. Introverted children may feel intimidated and unhappy among naturally extroverted, competitive peers. As a parent, how can you overcome this aversion to sports? Is it even important that you do so?
Why Sports Matter
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. The rate of obesity in children has nearly tripled since 1980, and the rate of obesity in teenagers has nearly quadrupled in that same time frame. Children who learn poor fitness habits in their youth are more likely to carry these habits into adulthood. Because obesity is a leading cause of high blood pressure, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and more, the health effects of early obesity can be substantial.
Of course, sports do more than combat childhood obesity levels. Many doctors and scientists believe that team sports play an important role in the development of self-esteem. These organized events provide ways for children to learn the value of competition, self-discipline and teamwork. Likewise, playing on a team can be valuable for a child trying to fit in with his or her peers.
Parenting an Introverted Child
Before you begin pushing your introverted child into team sports because of the obvious benefits, make sure you understand what introversion means in comparison to extroversion. These labels measure how a person obtains and uses their energy. Extroverted people draw energy and excitement from those around them. They tend to vocalize their thoughts, playing off the reactions of others to formulate the world around them. Introverted people, on the other hand, draw energy from their imagination and emotions, thinking concepts through silently before sharing them with others.
While sports can be greatly beneficial to both introverts and extroverts, parents must understand that they cannot raise one like the other without running into frustrations. Introverted children will need time to themselves to replenish the energy that is sapped from them in social situations. While a true extrovert may see little need for solitary introspection, a true introvert will not be able to imagine a life without it. These concepts have nothing to do with social grace or "shyness," though these side effects are often the most visible signs of introversion and extroversion.
Forcing a child to play a certain sport is a strategy doomed to fail. Instead of throwing your child into the fire, explain the benefits of playing sports before presenting her with an open choice. Remember that sports don't have to include baseball, football, basketball, etc. These are popular activities, but there aren't any inherent advantages to getting involved in these particular sports. If your child has a hand in deciding which sports she will participate in, she may be more likely to give it a fair shot.
Introverted children often excel at sports that have less of a social component. More independent sports like archery, karate, skateboarding and running cut much of the teamwork aspect out of sports while retaining some of the social benefits. If your child chooses a sport that is truly solitary, you still have options to bridge that social a few of the ways children can learn to socialize in an environment not unlike the sports field.
Today, many leagues are open for children as young as (or sometimes younger than) age six. If your six-year-old child simply isn't ready for team sports, don't force the issue. If you continually push your introverted child into activities he hates, it could create worse problems than leaving him alone to forge his own interests. Encourage your child to explore the aspects of the world he finds compelling. If those don't include sports, look for alternative ways to help your child obtain the social and physical benefits.
Brandon Capaletti is the Vice President of Cisco Athletic, a Maryland-based athletic apparel manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom uniforms for 18 different sports including basketball, soccer, and baseball.