Fall sports can cure kids’ inactivity, improve character

UAB experts in pediatrics and child psychology say fall sports aren’t just for getting another trophy for your child.

Adding a practice schedule to the already long list of things parents have to accomplish after school may seem overwhelming, but experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say team sports can benefit a child’s body and mind.

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“Team sports are a great way young people can get their recommended daily exercise,” says Stephenie Wallace, M.D., UAB assistant professor of pediatrics.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that all kids ages 6-17 should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Wallace says many kids can do this in physical education class in school, but not all do.

“As they get older and PE is no longer a requirement, they’re not getting exercise every day. But with team sports, they often practice two to three days per week, in addition to their games,” Wallace explains.

Plus, Wallace says the fall is an optimal time for playing team sports because of the weather.

“The fall is one of the better times to begin or continue an exercise regimen such as a sport. When it’s too hot, you have to pay attention to hydration and the air quality may not always be best,” continues Wallace, “Now we have cool mornings and evenings, they can work up a sweat and get their heart rate up; our families should really take advantage.”

Teams won’t just keep kids heart healthy — they can also help with their state of mind.

“Ideally, sports should teach sportsmanship,” says child-adolescent psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Friedman says sports participation should help kids in many ways:

  • Learning to be part of a group
  • Developing the mindset of doing your best
  • Mastering how to accept a loss
  • Respecting other teammates and opponents

“Being part of a group like a sports team is beneficial for most children, unless they are belittled or bullied in the group,” says Friedman.

“If your child lacks athletic skills, it might be better to steer them towards music, art or other activities like karate or swimming.”

Friedman says if they do have the potential to improve, go ahead and let them stick with it. But as a parent, do not let a competitive nature get in the way.

“Unfortunately, some leagues have become competitive at very young ages and the parents offer very poor role models, heckling the other team. If the coach and the other parents are not conducting themselves in a sportsmanlike manner, consider switching your child to another league,” Friedman says.

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