When should you force your child to play youth sports?

Some parents think that they need to push their children when it comes to exercising and playing youth sports.  

There are times when we need force our kids do things–like eat their vegetables, get their sleep and take their medicine when they are sick. But should you force sports on your child?

The simple answer to that question is NO. The complicated answer to that is YES.

When you should NOT force your child to play

When kids are little, sports should be all about fun. There’s enough things in life that kids are told they have to do, but sports should not be one of them.

Most of the time children start playing sports to have fun. They don’t care about exercise. They just want fun. Sometimes the cool uniform, time with friends and good snacks entice them too. But mostly, it’s all about fun.

If your young child does not think playing sports is fun, then don’t force him to sign up for the team. If you are concerned about exercise, there’s other ways for that to happen. If you want to be sure your child has a chance to learn teammwork, there are other ways to learn that too. If you are looking for something to keep your child busy, the list of  activities are available for kids is endless.

Sit down with him and make a top 5 list of things he’d like to do. If sports isn’t in there, don’t force it on him.

When you SHOULD force your child to play

Even though your child says, yes, I want to play! there may still come a time during the season when the game becomes a chore and it’s not fun anymore.

This is when you may have to do some forcing. One thing kids should learn is that you can’t always quit something just because you don’t feel like doing it. Your child needs to learn that there’s other things to consider: his team, and the money his parents spent on uniforms, equipment and league fees.

Unless the child is injured or is suffering from some other major emotional issues connected to the coach or team, it’s important that he learns to finish what he started. If he is miserable, remind him that he chose to play because he thought it was fun and that once the season is over, he doesn’t have to play again.

And then he grows up

As your child grows up and continues to play, the conversation of whether or not you should force him to play changes. Being a good athlete takes commitment and hard work and the answers are not always so easy.

What do you think? How far do you think you should go as a parent in forcing your older child, say middle school or high school, to play a sport he wants to quit?


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  1. says

    Wonderful article Janis! Although, as you know, I am totally in favor of allowing children to make their own choices and for parents to support their child’s preferences, I also believe that it is critically important for children to understand that with their choices in life will always be consequences…some good and some not so good. I often suggest parents be very clear with their children that to join a team is a commitment and in the case that they decide to join it is expected that they will fulfill their commitment. And as you brilliantly point out, should they choose not to join next time around that will be honored as well. Thanks for sharing this, I think it is important to build character along with discovering who we are!
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  2. says

    My oldest son decided not to play soccer in HS. He nervously approached me to tell me that he was done with soccer. To his surprise, I said that that was fine. He was so relieved.

    After he let out a big sigh of relief, I told him that he had to try out for the team AND if he made the team, he could tell the coach that he decided not to play. He reluctantly went to tryouts and made the team. He of course played the entire season and had a great time.

    I made him go to tryouts because I knew that the only reason he did not want to play soccer in HS was because he was afraid to fail. And that he was afraid he could not do the conditioning. And I know that my shy son was afraid of meeting new kids.

    So a good reason to push your kids to play a sport is when they secretly want to play but are afraid to fail.
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    • Janis says

      Fran, that is surely one way to handle the situation. You know, basically, I don’t think there is one-size-fits-all for handling our kids. We need to know them well and understand their fears and what motivates them. What worked for you and your son may not have worked for someone else and what works for someone else probably wouldn’t work for you. The fact that you know your son and understand him so well so that you knew what he needed to succeed is a tribute to your strength as a father.

  3. says

    This is true, small children should not be forced into practicing sports. However, after they gorw up a little and they already started practicing a sport, things chaneg. You pointed that very well when you said they can’t quit just because they don’t feel like it. Great article.

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