It probably goes without saying that sports are usually a healthy activity for children to be a part of, but a lot of times our kids end up on sports teams with other children who are really, really difficult to interact with.
For me, the tough kids to deal with are the bullies.
For some people, the tough kids to deal with are the space cadets who won’t pay attention.
For others, it’s a struggle to deal with kids on the team who have autism and related meltdowns.
For some people, their own kids are the ones who drive them nuts during sporting events.
In whatever situation you find yourself, it’s important to remember why it’s so important for kids of all temperaments/backgrounds to be able to participate in sports. Sports encourage healthy behavioral and social development.
1. Kids who are anxious learn to be confident away from their comfort zones
A lot of kids, especially those who are lower-elementary-aged, feel unsure of themselves when they’re asked to make decisions away from their parents. They have a little experience at school (if they aren’t homeschooled), but sports are a whole different world.
There isn’t a teacher there to tell them what to do every step of the way. That happens in practice, but during games, they have to learn to make spontaneous decisions for themselves and their teammates, without any adults instructing them.
The first few times, it’s nerve-wracking. But after they’ve successfully done it a few times, they feel more confident that they can do it.
I’m not saying they’ll be confident that their solo decisions will turn out well. I’m saying they’ll become confident that they can MAKE solo decisions. For anxious kids who panic when asked to make decisions, that’s huge.
2. Kids who are bullies learn that their behavior cannot earn them game time
They can bully their teammates to make themselves look like the cool kid, but nothing they say will improve their ability to play the game.
The only way that can happen is with hard work, a willingness to work as part of a team, and a desire to implement what the coach says. For these types of kids, team sports are invaluable to their behavioral development because it removes the reward they might feel from bullying.
Try to remember how important it is, even when these kids drive you crazy.
3. Kids who are independent and/or defiant learn to work as a team
This could be kids with disorders such as ODD/ADHD, but they might also just be those really independent kids who aren’t afraid of anything and argue with everything they hear.
Sports allow these kids to learn how to accept feedback without arguing. If they argue with a coach every time they’re given feedback, the coach will stop giving them feedback, which means they’ll get less playing time.
Most coaches prefer hard work and humility over talent and ego, and they’ll learn that quickly in the world of sports.
These kids often do really well in individual sports, but don’t gain as much developmentally from them.
4. Kids with social disorders get an extra opportunity to interact with their peers in a meaningful way
Sports can be REALLY HARD for kids who have social disorders. But, in my opinion, most of the reason they’re so hard is because of the constraints that are put on the kids.
The world of sports doesn’t always make room for them.
Kids with autism, for example, aren’t always able to function on the schedule that their sport has predetermined for them. Maybe they’re overwhelmed by the itchy grass of the baseball field and need ten minutes to calm down.
Baseball probably doesn’t allow for that, and coaches often overlook them because they can’t be essential players.
Or maybe they’re struggling to understand the rules of when it’s okay to put hands on people and when it’s not. Rather than spend the extra weeks it takes to go over and over and over the rules with them, coaches need to spend a lot of that time on other kids and other priorities.
The kids with the boundary issues get benched to save everyone the headache, and the parents eventually pull them out of the sport.
It’s so unfortunate that kids with neurotypical differences aren’t able to develop socially/behaviorally through sports as often as they should be. Because, truth be told, they’re the most likely to need the developmental opportunities.
5. Kids who are easily discouraged learn to lean on the encouragement of their peers to persevere
This often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety, but there are kids who just feel easily defeated, especially with activities they’re not used to. These kids often avoid sports because they’re afraid of losing or performing poorly.
If you can convince them to persevere and try a sport anyway, the lessons to be learned are invaluable. They’ll learn how unimportant it is to win every time, and they’ll LOVE the way it feels when their peers start to cheer them on and interact with them.
6. The kids who don’t really have any issues, so to speak, learn to interact with people who are “difficult”
This is for all the “typical” kids out there who aren’t bullies, aren’t anxious, and don’t get super overwhelmed by much of anything. Just your run-of-the-mill, laid back kids who only cause you trouble every once in a while.
These kids NEED to learn how to interact with people who are different. They need to experience first-hand how hard it is for someone with sensory issues to be in the outside world.
They need to know how to deal with a bully.
They need to know how to take care of those who aren’t as confident.
They need to see their coaches show favor to the kids who work hard over the kids who throw a fit.
They also need to see families working together to include all types of children in fun activities.
Happy parenting, friends.