Health Advice



Ask the Pediatrician: How to keep the fun in sports

Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP and Drew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

Encourage your child to play a variety of sports. Studies show that kids thrive when they try out many different activities before puberty. They also are less likely to lose interest or drop out when they engage in more than one sport.

Focus on fun. Did you know that kids say fun is the No. 1 reason they want to play sports? Give them the freedom to choose activities they truly enjoy. Avoid too much emphasis on outcomes or performance, especially in younger children.

Set training limits. AAP experts advise parents and families to plan for 1-2 days of rest every week with at least 2-3 months off during the year. The time off can be divided into 1-month increments.

Consider what's driving your child. Are they thinking about success in college? Or becoming wealthy, famous athletes later in life? These are exciting dreams, but parents and caregivers should present a balanced view. Remind your child that only 3% to 11% of high-school athletes go on to compete in college, and only 1% receive athletic scholarships. The percentage of college athletes who go on to professional careers is even smaller. (Fewer than 2% of NCAA student athletes play professionally after they leave school.)

Keep an eye on your child's health. Growing athletes need plenty of sleep and good nutrition to recover from the stress that training puts on their bodies. Be sure your child gets plenty of foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin D. Female athletes should watch for issues caused by overtraining, like missed periods. And because many sports stress the value of maintaining a certain weight or body type, always watch for signs of disordered eating in your child.

Watch for signs of abuse. If anything makes you uneasy about your child's relationship with coaches and other adults in an athletic program, take action. If you see or hear something that suggests abuse, or your child complains of mistreatment, speak up immediately. Your child's doctor can help you map out a plan to advocate for your child.

Set a positive example. If kids see you working out or playing sports 7 days a week, even when you're feeling tired or suffering from pain, they may try to do the same. After all, kids pick up cues about what parents expect. If you practice healthy self-care, they will too. Your attitude about your child's athletic performance matters, too. Look for ways to appreciate everything they do, not just what they accomplish on the court, playing field or gym. Knowing you love them unconditionally fosters the confidence they need to enjoy sports to the fullest.


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About Dr. Brenner

Joel S. Brenner, MD, MPH, FAAP is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness and Past Chairperson. He practices sports medicine at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and Children’s Specialty Group, PLLC in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Eastern Virginia Medical School. He is a team physician for a local high school and a performing arts high school.

About Dr. Watson

Drew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness. He practices pediatric sports medicine within the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin–Madison and is a team physician for the university's athletic department.

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