A girl sits on a soccer ball in front of a soccer, with her chin resting in her hand. She looks apprehensive.

13 ways to help your child overcome sport hesitancy

When I was a kid, I had a face-off with my grade school phys ed teacher. 

There was zero chance I was going to attempt the high jump. Do you know how injured (I believed) I would get? Eventually, with some encouragement and a promise that he would spot me in case there was an issue, I agreed to try. And unlike brussels sprouts, which I was also encouraged to try, I ended up loving high jump.

This is a situation many parents face with their kids. It’s not uncommon for a child to be hesitant about participating in a sport. 

The most important first step in addressing your child’s hesitancy is to figure out the why. What is it that’s holding them back from diving right into the sport?

Identify the reasons your child might be apprehensive about trying a new sport

Having an open conversation can help allow your child to try to express whatever it is that’s making them hesitant. Possible reasons your child may be reluctant or afraid can include:

  1. Your child might feel that they don’t know much about playing the sport and therefore won’t be good at it.
  1. They might be afraid of getting injured.
  1. Your child might believe that they don’t have the body type necessary for the sport (they feel that they’re too short for basketball, or not strong enough to bat a ball).
  1. Perhaps your child gets overwhelmed with large groups or they’re shy.
  1. Your child might be afraid that they’ll let others down if they’re not “good enough” or make mistakes. 
  1. Your child might be a perfectionist and fear that they won’t be flawless at the sport.

So what can you do to help your child overcome their fears or hesitancies?

Tips to help encourage your child to try new things

Not all kids are going to be eager to embrace a sport. But once you identify what it is that’s holding them back and take steps to help overcome their hesitancy, there’s far more of a chance that they will feel more comfortable, confident, and ready to hit the field.

  1. Play the sport together with your child in the backyard or at a park. Break the sport down to its most basic rules and skills so your child has success. Then gradually advance from there.
  2. The more they hear positive encouragement, learn skills in a non-game environment, and have fun with someone they trust, the more a child will be comfortable and enthusiastic about playing a sport. 
  3. Take your child to watch teams of kids or professionals, or watch the sport on TV to pique their interest.
  4. Once your child has started to master the sport, invite friends or family with whom they’re most comfortable to play together for fun.
  5. Remind your child about all of the other obstacles they’ve already overcome. Perhaps they’ve conquered a rock wall at a playground, mastered riding a bike, or put their head underwater. These are all examples you can reference about how brave they are.
  6. Volunteer to help coach your child’s team when they do start to play. Having you near might provide them with the comfort they need to join in more readily.
  7. Focus and comment on specific things your child did during a game. “I love the way you helped out your teammates by being positive,” “You kicked the ball really far today,” or “You were super fast!” are examples of encouraging sentiments.
  8. Let your child know that there are multiple options for sports. If your child is not a “joiner” (and not all kids are), maybe your child’s personality would best suit an individual sport such as swimming, dance, or tennis. Again, working with them before they join a club (if they’re going that route) is worth every minute of help.
  9. Remind them that even the greatest athletes didn’t know how to play their sport when they began. Some weren’t very good at it from the outset! Show them videos of Michael Jordan, who didn’t make his high school basketball team but worked hard and became one of the best basketball players of all time. Or Lionel Messi, who was cut by his soccer team when he was 11 because the team thought he was too short.
  10. Remind them that everyone makes mistakes and if they make some, it’s okay to dust themselves off and to try again. You can even share some of your own past mistakes—we all know we’ve made some (or many!).
  11. Point out and praise improvements. For kids who like to be perfect, focus on a few skills that they can aim to improve instead of focusing on being the greatest at every aspect of the game.
  12. Remind your child that you’re proud of them no matter what the outcome of a game. 
  13. Mention repeatedly that every person on a team has a role to play. While one player might score a lot of goals or hit a lot of home runs, the others help by passing that player the ball or puck, keep the other team from scoring, or are positive and encouraging.

Not all kids are going to be eager to embrace a new sport or activity. But once you identify what’s holding them back and take steps to help overcome their hesitancy, there is far more of a chance that they will feel comfortable, confident, and ready to hit the field.

Read more about helping kids learn to love physical activity:

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