Benefits of organized sports: Keep kids in the game

Think about this the next time you’re up at 6 a.m. on a weekend to drive your child to sports practice: Just two to three hours a week of sports participation boosts cardiovascular conditioning, not to mention the social and emotional benefits of being part of a team.

But participation in organized sports of all kinds is on the decline. It has been estimated that as much as 70% of all participants quit by their teens.

What’s causing it, and how can parents keep kids in the game?

George Washington University sports scientist Dr. Amanda Visek and her colleagues recruited nearly 250 players, parents and coaches from a D.C. soccer league to define, or map, fun. They started first by asking the study participants to brainstorm all of the things that make sports fun. The list was long.

“Who would have thought that fun, this three-letter word, could mean 81 specific things?” Visek told Ivanhoe.

Participants then organized the 81 factors into eleven categories and rated the importance of each determining the top three. Trying hard was No. 1, followed by positive team dynamics and positive coaching.

Visek detailed how a coach could be positive by asking, “Are they a positive role model? Is she or he encouraging?”

Visek said parents play a vital role, too. She said keep it positive, offer encouragement and support. Keep the focus on what kids are learning and ask what was most rewarding. Making fun the goal can help keep kids in the game.

In case you were curious, the sports scientists say winning was one of the 81 factors that participants named, but it was not anywhere near the top of the list. In fact, winning came in as sports “fun factor” No. 41.