When children aren’t into sport
Junior sport can have many benefits for children. It can be great for their fitness, health and development. And it can also help them learn important life skills like teamwork.
But some children don’t like sport or other organised physical activities, and that’s OK. Other children might just need support to deal with their worries and learn they can enjoy sport.
If your child isn’t into sport, understanding why is a good first step. Then you can work out the best way to help your child and keep him active.
Sometimes children don’t have the physical skills they need for some sports or organised physical activities like gymnastics, athletics and martial arts. They might not be able to run, jump, catch or throw as well as other children.
If this sounds like your child, you could help her practise at home, at the park or when she’s with family and friends. Try setting small, reachable targets like ‘doing two strong passes’, ‘running to catch up with another player’, or ‘dancing for one song longer’. This can help your child see and enjoy progress, improve skills and gradually gain confidence.
Everyone learns at different speeds, so encourage your child to focus on what he’s doing well rather than comparing himself to other children.
‘I’m not good enough to play’
Sometimes children feel that they have to be very good at sports or other organised physical activities to join in, and they’re worried that they’re not good enough.
If your child wants to play a particular sport and you think she does have the skills, you could encourage her to have a go in an informal way. Inviting friends to try with her is also a good idea. Sometimes having fun doing sport with a friend can help your child overcome worries and feel more confident.
If you think a particular sport is beyond your child’s ability just now, you could encourage him to try out other sports or activities he might be interested in – for example, bike riding, swimming, dancing, cricket or soccer.
A very competitive environment or pressure to perform could put your child off.
Clubs or sports that are less competitive and offer more support might be a better fit for your child. You can talk with other parents, team coaches or club members to find out what the local club or team environment is like.
Children deal better with competition as they get older. It might be best to wait until your child shows an interest in playing a competitive sport.
Fear of failing
Some children might feel scared of things they see as failure – like not winning.
You can help by sending your child the message that sport and organised physical activities are about having fun, being active, trying hard, being a good sport and encouraging others. And you can do this in simple ways – for example, ask your child whether she enjoyed the game, rather than whether she won.
It’s also important to give your child lots of praise when you see him being a good sport. For example, you could say, ‘I loved seeing you encourage your team mates today’.
In the end, your child’s effort is the only thing that’s completely within her control. The effort, not the result of the competition, is what makes it a success or failure. If your child gets to the end of a game or event and has tried her very best, she has been successful.
Some sports or physical activities just aren’t right for some children. Some children like organised sports, and others don’t. Some like team sports, and others like individual sports. Some don’t like sports but love to dance, ride a bike or go bushwalking.
You can help your child find the right activity by encouraging him to try a range of different sports, physical activities and games.
Children can feel out of place if they’re bigger or smaller than other children, or if they’re less muscular or less skilled.
If your child feels like this, it might help to let her know that children of all shapes and sizes can enjoy sport. It might also help to show her examples of people with her body type who enjoy sport and physical activities – especially other children.
Most importantly, you can help by finding and building a supportive and safe environment that welcomes your child’s efforts.
Disability or health problems
Living with disability or health problems like asthma or diabetes might mean your child isn’t confident about participating in sport or other organised physical activities.
The first step is to find out how much activity and what type is safe and healthy for your child. You can start by talking to your GP or other health professional.
In many cases there’s no need for your child to avoid activity altogether. Activity can even improve the symptoms of some conditions.
You could check to see whether any local sports or clubs offer modifications or support for children with additional needs.
Other options for physical activity
If your child really doesn’t want to do organised sport, there are plenty of other fun activities that can keep him physically active.
A great option is to just encourage free play – for example, shooting goals, playing chasey or hopscotch, jumping rope, and using monkey bars at the playground. The important thing is that your child is active with friends and has fun.
You could also consider other physical activities like:
- skateboarding, scooting or riding
- dance, martial arts, gymnastics, drama or yoga classes
- gardening, bushwalking or doing suburban walking trails.