Individual vs. team sports? One sports parents asks

Individual vs. team sports: is one better than the other?

A sports parent asks:

None of my kids are playing traditional team sports.  My college student is taking Kung Fu classes, which suits him perfectly and my high school student is in marching band (which I consider a team sport).  Their dad, however, is concerned that unless they actually participate in a team sport (meaning baseball, football, basketball, etc.– individual sports don’t count) they are somehow missing out. How do I help educate him on this one?

There is definitely a difference between a team sport and an individual sport. And there are pros and cons to each. Ask your husband to consider these facts about individual sports:

  • Kids who do individual sports usually don’t like to depend on a teammate for success. They can do it on their own, without comparing themselves to another athlete. They don’t have to be as cool or as good as anyone else.
  • Individual sports build self-reliance. Athletes may train with teammates, but come performance time, the athlete stands alone. They make their own decisions, and success or failure rests on their shoulders. This creates self confidence and self reliance, traits which come in handy as adults facing challenging circumstances.
  • In individual sports, athletes are still taught to follow and trust the coach, but standing alone under pressure is great practice for kids who will grow up to be leaders. Yes, team sports build other good skills for leadership, like working with others, but individual sports can also build capable and confident adults, who can stand up for their values and beliefs.
  • You only compete against yourself.
  • You can only blame yourself and not get angry at teammates.
  • The team aspect of some of these sports still exists. Though it’s not as dominant, in gymnastics and swimming, the team’s overall score does count. In sports like figure skating and karate, there isn’t necessarily a team score, but other kids may be at the same level as your child and attending the same practices. They’ll end up chatting with familiar faces and making friends.
  • Kids are independent and learn to perform in front of large crowds. They’re able to stand on their own and enjoy individual projects and presentations in school.
  • There is no pressure from a team to get better. They have only their individual drive to be better to motivate them. Many times this is the first sport they have adopted and excelled at on their own. This gives them a sense of ownership and self worth they may not have found in team sports.

Sometimes kids who thrive in individual sports just have a different pace and a different way of equipping themselves for life. Both options will teach life lessons to your child.

Do you have a youth sports question? I will surely do my best to answer! Leave a comment or email me at


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  1. says

    Great points about the differences in a team sport and an individual one. The one that sticks with me is the “you can only blame yourself”. Personal responsibility is huge in our family but this can be a problem if a child internalizes this to the point that they start to implode. It is a fine line for sure. GREAT article as usual, Janis!

  2. says

    These are all excellent points! The good that sports participation does for the character development of a child can not be overstated. If your husband is worried that there is an essential element missing from their learning, then he may be able to find another setting in which they can gather that skill. It is great that they are motivated and active.

  3. says

    I have experience with this truth in a different realm – the arts. It was only when my son learned how to take and give critical feedback about his art and the art work of his friends that his self esteem grew to healthy proportions. There is something about strengthening as an individual in the context of groups, team, or community that is central to the human experience. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. says

    Great points Janis! As an athlete who has evolved from a team environment (basketball) to an individual sport (running/triathlon), I can say that for me the most important thing that I have learned is self motivation and discipline. I no longer have the team pushing me. I love both types of sports but there really is something special about competing only against yourself :)

  5. says

    What a great answer to her question. I played team sports (softball) when younger and found that individual sports was what brought out my competitive nature. Competing against myself pushes me harder than being able to on the team for support. I never knew how competitive I was or how independent I was until then.

  6. says

    This is such a great article, Janis. We have had family members question our choices for sports participation and this article will help us to answer them.

  7. says

    Time to get our 3-year-old daughter into something… Thanks for this informative post with valid points on individual activities.

    Teams are great, but often only a few stand out, leaving others in the shadows.

    • Janis says

      Rob, that is true sometimes about teams. But don’t let that stop you from trying it out if your daughter is interested later on. Team sports can be so fun too!

  8. says

    Great points in the article, Janis! Our kids were involved in Tae Kwon Do, as was I, and the fact that they were competing only with themselves, was such a benefit to us all!

  9. says

    Lots of good points here, Janis. I believe the trick as a parent is to match a sport with your child’s interests, abilities, temperament and personality and to be as supportive as possible. One kid might love the comaraderie of baseball, while another gets totally immersed in distance running. Each can be fulfilling and should be encouraged. Good post!

  10. says

    Hi Janice. You make some very valuable points in this post. Yes, there are pros and cons to each side. I wonder if there is a correlation between those who prefer individual sports and career path/choices like being an entrepreneur…

  11. says

    Mmmm… great points! I have seen both spectrums and I agree with Peggy Malone as to being competitive with oneself. On the other hand, it is a great experience working as a team… Thanks for posting!
    Norma Doiron @ The LEARNED Preneur ╰☆╮

  12. says

    Janice, you made some really great points! My oldest always “tried” to play on team sports but she was much more of an individual kinda girl, and her career path has followed suit, it is kinda interesting!

  13. says

    Wow, you gave excellent answers there, and we have asked that question ourselves at times. We have 4 kids – and 3 of them are very athletic. The 4th one is still searching for his sport, but he’s only 12, and his sister didn’t even discover volleyball till she was 14, and she’ll probably play in college. I say the beauty of sport is the life lessons and who we become by playing – whether individual or in a team.

  14. says

    Great article Janis! I love the response you gave! I have found that allowing our children to take part in those things that really interests them, makes all the difference. If they prefer individual sports over team sports, then that is what they should be allowed to pursue. As you mentioned, there are good things with both sides. Thanks so much for sharing! Loved this post!

  15. says

    It is sad to me that parents don’t take kids as they come. I have three sons. My oldest wanted to play sports…kind of. My twins have been all about sports.
    It has never mattered team or not. There are certainly qualities in both team sports as well as individual sports that offer lasting lessons and opportunity for growth. Thanks for your insight Janis.
    (p.s. my older son had the “team” experience in his jazz band, so sports is not the only option to experience a team dynamic)

  16. Ingrid says

    I have a question. How many different sports and activities should your child partake in? Is there a recommended maximum for extracurricular activities, individual and team sports?

  17. says

    Great post! Once again, I am sharing this with my daughter ~ my grandson is more of a team sports little guy while my grand daughter tends to be drawn to individual activities. Thanks for sharing!

  18. says

    I love your blog, you should add an RSS feed feature so I can get automatic notifications of new blogs. If you set one up please email me! i will bookmark you for now. Again Excellent Blog!

  19. says

    Great post JBM,

    When it comes to success in sports, however, there really isn’t that much difference between the thought process of an athlete whether in a team sport or individual sport. If you don’t mind, here are a couple of pieces that help shed some light on this.

    Part I: Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Etc. – Riding The Wave of Inconsistency

    Part II: Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Etc. – Riding The Wave of Inconsistency

    (Just copy and paste titles in google, pieces will come up)

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