At a glance
Getting your child involved in a sport is easier than you might think.
Consider what activities interest your child and go from there.
With a little extra effort, your child can thrive on a team and at a sport.
Getting kids involved in sports can sometimes take a little extra legwork from parents and caregivers—especially if your child learns and thinks differently. You’ll need to have some honest conversations about it all and set clear expectations along the way.
Here are some easy steps you can take right now to help give your child an extra nudge toward trying a new sport.
Think about your child’s skills and interests.
What types of sports make your child excited and happy? If you’re not sure, ask a gym teacher, coach, relative, or someone else who knows a lot about youth sports to suggest options that could be a good fit.
While you’re at it, ask the gym teacher or coach—or even other parents—about sports programs they recommend. And try to look for coaches who have experience working with kids who learn and think differently.
Be realistic about time.
Some sports mean a bigger time commitment than others. There might be games near home or far away if it’s a bigger league. Can you deal with weekend practices, or would you prefer your child only play sports after school? Factor in homework and other activities and be realistic. This will help you decide how much your child can handle each week.
Visit the playing field.
Before the first practice or tryout, walk around the playing field, gym, or sports facility with your child. Kids should know where the bathroom is, where to meet their coach and team each day, where lockers are, how to stow sports equipment, what uniform or clothes to wear, and where to get water. Talking through all the details can help your child feel less anxious when it’s time to start practice.
Prepare for tryouts.
If your child needs to try out for the team, find out as much as you can. It’s important for your child to know what to expect. Urge your child to get advice from kids who’ve already tried out for the team. Depending on the sport, practice skills and moves before the tryout. This could mean timing a run or a swim, or playing catch.
Go over the details.
First, make sure your child understands the commitment associated with being on a team. Kids need to attend each practice and be on time. There will be games and maybe even tournaments. The sport might also require special equipment and uniforms. Help your child learn the sports vocabulary that goes along with it. This way, when a coach brings up a strategy or is speaking the “lingo,” your child will know what’s going on.
Talk to the coach.
Tell the coach about your child’s learning and thinking struggles before the season starts. Explain how this may affect your child’s behavior and performance.
Help your child set realistic goals.
Work with the coach to help your child focus on certain skills. Be clear about what your child can expect or what you or the coach expect. Be specific when praising your child for making progress in those areas. You might say, “I saw you pass the ball today. That was great.” Or, “Your backstroke is getting better. Nice work!” Offer to help your child practice at home.
Assess after the season.
When the season is over, talk about the overall experience with your child. What worked and what didn’t? After every sports season, it’s a good idea to ask kids if they want to play again or try something different.
Talk to a coach or another parent and get details before a sports tryout.
Be sure your child knows where to go and what equipment is needed.
After every sports season, talk about what worked and what didn’t.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.