Question of the Week

August 11, 2008


The Olympics are here again, and people all over the world are watching TV and getting inspired. While it can be amazing and impressive to watch what the elite in a given sport can do, it can also encourage those watching to try something new.

Whether the aspiring athletes are five, fifteen, twenty-five, or fifty, there are health benefits that come from finding a sport they enjoy.

"The health and fitness benefits of physical activity will be experienced whether an individual or team sport is chosen.... Sports participation can motivate the couch potato, occupy the child who has idle time, minimize the habits of the fast-food junkie and relieve stress. The emotional rewards of self-esteem, social skills and dedication learned from sports participation can last a lifetime."

While the following advice is geared toward parents who are trying to help their children find the sport that is right for them, the advice could be applied to an aspiring athlete of any age.

"The best sport for a child is one that the child finds fun and interesting.... Allow your child the freedom to try different sports. If your child is interested in a particular sport, check out the programs available at school, through your city's parks and recreation association, religious organizations or civic clubs."

Some aspiring athletes enter high school ready to pursue the sport that they have done for years through a parks and recreation program, private program, or with another group. Others enter high school ready to try something new, but unsure what that will be.

"For some people, choosing which sports to pursue throughout high school is hard because they have never really played an organized sport before and aren't sure what they'll most enjoy. For others it's a tough decision because their friends don't like to play the same sports. No matter what your sports dilemma is, you have to make the decision that is best for you.... Many people are attracted to the competition and popularity that can come with team sports. Others love the camaraderie and unity that are present in a team atmosphere. But for some people, teams are just frustrating and another form of cliques."

There are many factors to consider when trying to find the right sport. For some the dilemma lies in whether to choose a sport that is played with a team or an individual sport where each person accumulates points for a team total at the end of the meet. For others, neither is the right fit, and they want a sport where they don't have the rules of competition to influence how they play.

"If you're not the biggest fan of organized sports, where you have to follow someone else's schedule and rules, many other fun and exciting options are out there for you.... Rock climbing offers participants one of the best all-around workouts possible.... Hiking and trail biking are two great ways to learn about nature while still getting that heart rate up.... There are plenty of water activities for all levels of difficulty and energy. Besides swimming, try canoeing, kayaking, fishing, rowing, sailing, wakeboarding, water skiing, windsurfing, and, if you're feeling particularly daring, surfing."

While some people will avoid organized sports (or sports in general) because they don't enjoy them, others find that they are avoiding them (and not enjoying them) because it's too stressful to try and learn all the rules that everyone else seems to know.

"Sometimes, kids feel that they don't like sports because they may not understand how to play them or they haven't had much practice doing them. Sports can seem complicated because of all the rules and special equipment.... People spend many years learning about favorite sports and practicing how to do them well.... Gym class and intramural programs at school also can be a way to try new sports with a mix of kids. Another way to learn about a sport is to watch instructional videos or DVDs or check out library books that explain the rules and offer suggestions for kids learning to play them. If you have an older friend or family member who's good at a sport, you might ask him or her to help you practice. Some sports are just good to understand, even if you never want to play on a competitive team. For instance, you might play softball or volleyball, just for fun, at a summer picnic."

Understanding the sport and all of it's rules is one thing, but being ale to play it and have fun can be something else entirely.

"Some kids don't like organized sports because they were once on a team and they didn't have fun. Maybe all of the other kids seemed to know what they were doing and you felt unsure. Or maybe you didn't like the pressure of competing against other teams, where you know one team is going to win and the other is going to lose. Competition can bring out some intense emotions. Sometimes, kids on a team get so fired up about winning that they may yell or get upset at a player who makes a mistake. This can be stressful - especially if it's you who made a mistake! But everybody makes mistakes sometimes and no one should tease you for it. If they do, it's a good idea to talk with the coach or your mom or dad. Sometimes kids need to be reminded about being understanding and respectful to each other.... But team sports also can be a great experience. Kids get to improve their skills and feel that team spirit as they work together toward a common goal. If you've had a bad experience with a team, maybe it's time to try a new sport or a new league.... There are dozens of sports, so you might not have found the one for you yet."

Finding the right sport can be a challenge, but it is certainly worth the effort. It's even better if the sport is one you enjoy enough to stick with for the long term.

"Regular exercise can help you control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But before you put on your workout shoes, you may want to talk to your doctor. Although physical activity is perfectly safe for most people, sometimes it's important to get a doctor's OK before you exercise."

Questions of the Week:
What criteria do you need to consider when trying to determine if a sport is right for you? What benefits, other than physical fitness, do sports offer? How do these benefits vary from sport to sport? What can you do to improve your likelihood of sticking with a sport? When should you talk to your doctor about your plans to start a new sport or activity program?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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