Should Your Child Play Extracurricular Sport

Extracurricular activities like sports can help build character or detract from academic success. Which way should parents steer their kids?

Extracurricular activities, particularly sports, have been available for public school students for a few generations now. Proponents say that giving kids an opportunity to play competitive sports on a school or community team helps to build character. Detractors argue that sports activities divert kids from homework and family time. What's a parent to think? Here are a few guidelines to consider:

1. How is your child doing in school? If he is managing his studies and keeping up his grades, he may be able to handle adding a team sport. But if your child labors over homework for several hours each evening and is struggling to achieve passing grades, this may not be the best time to add another commitment to his schedule. If you are uncertain about your child's level of academic progress, make an appointment to talk to the teacher and find out how your child is doing. This will give you an idea as to whether you should expect him to take on even more responsibility.

2. Does your child show interest in sports? If he watches pro ball on the television, collects trading cards, or plays ball with the other kids in the neighborhood, chances are he will enjoy playing on a school or community team. The main difference will be the set schedule of practices and games, which can be pretty demanding to kids who enjoy having free time to play a variety of games. Talk to your child about the sport being considered for team play. It's not a good idea to force your child to join a team that he or she is not really interested in.

3. Does your child have aptitude for sports? Even if he loves to play ball, if he isn't very good at it at this stage of development, it may not be a good idea to encourage trying out for the team. First of all, he may not get selected, which could be a crushing disappointment. Second, even if chosen for the team, he or she may not be able to live up to the coach's expectations or the teammates' level of performance. It may be better to wait until he or she gets a little older or more coordinated unless you are sure the coach won't mind helping to develop his or her skills.

4. Does your child have other interests that might interfere with a team commitment? An upcoming county fair project, household chores, or music practice could compete with time that might otherwise be devoted to team practice and games. Both child and parents will have to be realistic about giving up one or more activities to make room for a new one if he is planning to take on an extracurricular sport. Don't overburden your child with too much to do or he may grow discouraged and frustrated.

5. Are you ready to pitch in and help. Many teams expect parents to drive a child to and from practice and games. In addition, you may be expected to help with concessions or provide snacks for the team on occasion. You'll probably have to wash uniforms and keep them ready for game-time. If all of this is too overwhelming for a schedule that is already hectic, you may want to delay your child's participation in team sports or try to car pool with another parent to at least cut back on your driving time.

Overall, many families find team sports very rewarding for both children and adults. Some parents even offer to volunteer coach. But it is a good idea to be sure your child is interested in this activity before making a commitment that either of you might not be able to keep.

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