What can I do if my child shows no interest in sports?

Q: What should a parent do if their child shows no interest in sports? My 6-year-old daughter would rather read, draw or play. Do I risk turning her off of sports and activity if I “force her” to do them?

Lots of children love to read, draw and play on their own, and those are valuable activities. Music, art and free play are important parts of a balanced childhood and you should continue to encourage these activities.

Your question suggests that you are concerned whether or not you will create a negative experience for her by insisting she participates.

There is no great risk in introducing your daughter to a particular sport or activity, but you should keep a few things in mind:

  1. A little nudge at the beginning often helps kids to overcome natural shyness. You’re actually doing them a favor by doing so. As long as the encouragement doesn’t devolve into, “Daddy doesn’t like a quitter!” See point 2.
  2. It’s unhealthy to continue pushing if your child is still complaining about the activity after two or three sessions. This is usually a sign that they really aren’t having fun, and you need to respect their wishes. Studies show that FUN is the most important motivation for children to participate in sports.
  3. Remember that this is about your child’s long-term attitude toward sport and well being, not about you. Resist insisting on participation because you want to get your money’s worth. Or because you’re worried about your child being a “quitter”.
  4. All kids are different. Many children simply aren’t interested in organized team sports at ages five and six. For example, your daughter might not be ready for soccer until she is seven or maybe ten years old. There’s nothing “wrong” with her. It’s possible she prefers individual activities such as swimming, figure skating, gymnastics or dance.
  5. Always be prepared to switch activities if she is clearly bored, disinterested or unhappy. Investigate many options – swimming, tennis, hockey, soccer, ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, karate and dozens more – there are so many sports and activities to choose from. She’ll find something that she enjoys before long.
  6. Always take time to talk to your child and find out why she didn’t like an activity. Sometimes it is the activity itself, but often it is coaching and instruction. Kids want to have fun; they don’t want to be criticized or yelled at.

Check out these top tips for parents to learn more about helping your child to have a positive experience with sports and physical activity.

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7 responses to “What can I do if my child shows no interest in sports?

  1. Sports or any GROUP activity is important for children growing up. It gives them confidence and takes them social skills that they might not get from school alone. Any team building activity will be a tremendous help to any kid trying to find his/ her way. My daughter was a bit shy and lacked real confidence in herself though we encouraged her and told her repeatedly how great she was. It wasn’t until she started sports that she gained that “true” confidence in herself.

    1. Social skills are important, but a child can learn them without doing a team sport. From my observations with the many children in my neighborhood, it just comes way more naturally to some kids, usually those kids who are naturally extroverted. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert and preferring the more solo activities, or activities with one or 2 other people. Introverts naturally crave more intimate and/or alone time. The world gets value from both of these types of personalities.

    2. My 12 year old son hates sport and wants to stay alone in his room drawing and making videos, he will not participate in any athletic activities and will make any excuse to get out of it. Should I let him be his own person of force him to feel uncomfortable, bored and in pain. (As he would feel physical and emotional pain.)

  2. It is so important to be highly discriminating when it comes to any activity outside of school. Organized sports teams/classes that are not well-run (having poor supervision and/or too many kids) can actually harm a young person’s interest in being physically active. In some kinds of sports you run the risk of injury and this can completely impact a young person’s ability to be active as an adult. How many people do we know were “champions” in high school and became completely obese after graduating?

    Most after-school activities have a large number of overtired students who’s parents put them in the programs for the wrong reasons (ex – to live through their kids, have cheap babysitting, or to “Jones” with other adults). The results are grumpy, bored, angsty children which is the perfect recipe for rudeness and bullying, and an overall unpleasant experience for most of the kids involved except maybe the ones who are *really into* the sports to begin with.

    The best way to teach a child how to be active and motivate them through their teens and into adulthood is to actually be active *with* your child. Play ball with your kid. Take your kid hiking. Skip rope with them. Go swimming together. If a child has positive experiences being active with their parents, they are much more likely to seek out active things to do as an adult for fun/personal enjoyment as long-term pursuits rather than torturing themselves short-term to “get skinny.”

  3. Sport isn’t compulsory. There is a kind of sports fascism going on from people who are into sports, who think everyone else should do them to. At school and in adult life, sporting people are constantly trying to thrust it onto you. Sport is a tedious, shallow activity. Go for a walk instead.

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