After school sports programs can (and should be) great experiences for kids.

Besides the most important reason for kids participating in after schools sports –having fun –an after school sports program can also positively affect children on multiple levels. 

Socially it gives them an opportunity to interact with classmates (and non-classmates) outside of the school setting.  This not only strengthens friendships, but can also develop valuable real-life social skills. 

Physically it gives them a structured setting to be healthy and active while at the same time helping them improve specific sports and general motor skills. 

Emotionally, after school sports can teach such priceless lessons as teamwork, dedication, and the benefits of hard work.

So with all these pluses, what can be done if a child says ‘no’ to after school sports?  Should he or she be forced to participate and absorb all of the valuable lessons or permitted to walk away from what could be a positive experience?  First it’s important to explore why some kids don’t want to participate.

They’re too young to be a part of After School Sports!

Some organizations offer after school sports programs for children as young as two years old, but that is probably too early for most kids.  If a kid doesn’t want to participate in after school sports at a very young age, it’s not worth forcing the issue.  As all parents know, it’s not uncommon for young children (under 5 years old) to have a complete change of mind in a matter of minutes.  So, try occasionally re-visiting the idea.  Also, modeling is a good way to get kids interested.  If they see a parent, older sibling, or friend enjoying the activity, they’ll be much more likely to want to join in.

They loved it… and then didn’t

It’s far too common for to kids get ‘poisoned’ by a bad after school sports experience.  No matter how much enthusiasm they take into the activity, one bad coach, team, program, etc., can turn them off.  While sometimes the fix is as simple as a day off, it’s important to tread lightly and listen attentively to the reasons why they no longer want to participate in the program.

Of the above-mentioned reasons, negative coaching may be the most common.  If children have coaches who are prone to yelling, negative feedback, and an over-emphasis on winning, it’s hard to blame them for wanting to stop.  Though it can sometimes be tough to switch coaches in season, when given the opportunity, it is helpful to seek out a coach who is focused on the learning and provides positive feedback.  At a young age, emphasis on the process and making the practices engaging are two of the more important factors in keeping kids interested in after school sports.

Especially when dealing with a child who at one point loved being part of the program, a trial with another coach, team, or organization is definitely worth a try.   No matter what the reason, misbehaving adults should never be allowed to push kids out of after school sports.

They Feel Forced into It

Speaking of misbehaving adults… it’s easy to forget how intense pressure from home can get.  Whether a parent’s end goal is very clearly to turn their child into a professional athlete, or Mom and Dad just gets over-excited, it’s important for parents to be aware of the role they play in their child’s participation.

Having parents who are supportive in after school sports can be one of the greatest parts of a child’s experience, but it’s important to maintain boundaries.  As spectators, parents should be strong sources of praise and encouragement, which foster positive associations of after school sports for kids.  Yelling at referees, coaching from the sideline, or doing anything else that might put unnecessary pressure or cause embarrassment may very well have a very negative effect.  If parents see their child begin to shy away from an after school sports program, opening a dialogue with the child about the pressure they feel before, during, and after competitions can help clear the air.

They just don’t like it!

No matter how many ways you look at it, some kids just don’t like after school sports.  The cause might be an aversion to the competition, the practice time, or the strenuous activity, or it could be any other number of reasons.

While after school sports should never be forced, compromise is possible.

If a child’s reason for not liking sports is because his or her interests lie elsewhere (art, music, etc.), it is extremely important to embrace these activities first.  If a parent lets a child’s interests take priority, he or she will be much more open to the idea of participation in after schools sports programs.

If competition is the turnoff, explore non-competitive leagues.  Most cities have less-competitive leagues for sports like soccer and softball.  There are playing-time rules, a focus on sportsmanship, and a lighter atmosphere.  Some recreation leagues don’t even have practices, so the child gets to experience the fun, positive parts of participation without feeling overwhelmed.

If strenuous activity is the problem, parents still need to emphasize the importance of physical activity.  There is no right way to be active.  Kids can still reap the health benefits of after school sports when participating in dance, bike riding, or any other number of after school activities without having to be in an organized setting. When this is the best option for a child, try tracking and rewarding milestones of activity so they stay consistent.

Ultimately, a child saying “no” to after school sports may be caused by a variety of factors.  The most important thing parents and coaches can do to encourage participation is listening to the child and positively engaging them in the activity.  While the benefits of an after school sports program can be endless, children will never reap those benefits if they do not enjoy the activities and feel comfortable doing them.  In the end, it’s a team effort to find a program that works for each individual child.

After School SportsBio on Steve Ettinger:

Steve Ettinger is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach who currently lives in New York City.  He holds a psychology degree from Boston University and has a background in behavior therapy.

He is also the author of the award-winning children’s book Wallie Exercises (Active Spud Press 2011), which encourages kids to creatively explore exercises.  Steve has years of experience coaching and volunteering in youth athletics and physical education and currently coaches a competitive travel soccer team.

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Check out his website for more on after school sports.