Should kids settle on one sport?

My 10-year-old won’t settle on one sport

Q: I have a son, grade 5, who has always been an energetic kid. He swings with abandon on the monkey bars, loves to jump as high as he can, and he rides a bike well even if he doesn’t have endurance yet for long rides. We have encouraged him to try sports, and our rule is to try one sport a year even though we are a non-sporty family, but he never sticks with anything for more than one year of “enforced attendance”. He has tried soccer, basketball, hockey, circus and gymnastics, and this year it is swimming. Is it okay to keep switching up his activity? I would love to harness his energy and get him to stick with something somehow!

There are two sides to this answer. First of all, you are very fortunate in the sense that your son is getting to experience a wide variety of sports and physical activities prior to puberty. As a consequence he is developing a great range of fundamental movement and sport skills at precisely the age when he should be.

In discussions around developing physical literacy in children, the cardinal rule is to get kids doing a variety of activities up until their adolescent growth spurt. After the growth spurt, kids can start to think about specializing in one sport. A couple of notable exceptions: experts say acrobatic sports such as figure skating, gymnastics and diving require specialization from younger ages if your child hopes to excel at them later in life.

The other side to this answer: it sounds like your son hasn’t yet found a sport or physical activity that really excites him. The fact that you still find yourself having to “enforce” his attendance speaks to this fact. But don’t be alarmed – you simply need to continue encouraging him to try different sports and activities. Something is sure to catch his interest.

Have you considered martial arts or dance? Kayaking or sailing? Tennis or badminton? Skateboarding or rock climbing? Check out this list of 61 sports with your son, explore a few online, and see if any of them catch his attention. You might be surprised by what catches his attention.

Finding your sport is a lot like discovering a musical instrument. Many parents introduce their children to the piano to encourage them towards playing music. But if a child doesn’t like piano, the parents often assume it means the child isn’t musical. The truth is that the child might be ready to discover a hidden love for guitar, drums, violin or flute! But they need the opportunity to try these other instruments to find that passion.

And then there’s another possibility for your son: he may have already tried his favorite sport or activity in the past, but he didn’t develop a passion for it because the program was poorly organized or it had weak instruction. It may be worth revisiting one or two of these sports to see what he thinks now, and to see if it makes a difference with different coaches or a different program. Do a bit of research in your area, ask a few friends, and try to find a quality program.

Your son is only in grade five. He has at least three or four years before you need to start thinking about him focusing on one activity or specializing in one sport, and that’s only if he decides he wants to try to be a professional some day or compete for Canada. In the meantime, it’s best if he continues to do a variety of sports and activities.

Your son might decide during his teen years that he is happy just to be a recreational participant in four or five sports for the rest of his life, committing full-time to none. If that happens, it’s as big a victory in raising an active kid as seeing him go to the Olympics or play professional hockey!

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