More than 30 million children and adolescents in the United States participate in group or individual sports. The benefits of sports are numerous; sports are good for physical and mental health and promote psychological and academic development. But what about the remaining millions of kids who really don't like sports? And the kids who drop out of sports? Are there other ways to gain the benefits of sports?

We know that kids need to be physically active every day. Organized team sports appeal to many kids at first, but then a considerable number drop out after several years. Why? Some kids don't like the competitiveness of organized team sports. They just like playing spontaneously for fun. Some kids don't want to devote the time and effort. Here are some other reasons kids might be turned off:

"I just can't do it" - Jeremy, 5
Some kids develop their motor skills, such as kicking or hitting a ball later than others. Children under the age of 6 or 7 may not have the attention span or the ability to understand the rules.

"It's boring and the coach yelled at me" - Jenny, 8
Some children don't like the rules and time requirements of team sports. Some may be afraid of doing something wrong.

"I'd rather watch TV" - Cindy, 10
Some kids haven't been encouraged to try different kinds of physical activity.

"I didn't get to play except one time" - Jimmy, 14
Some kids get frustrated by sitting out.

"I'm always being watched" - Amy, 14
Some kids feel they're on display to please other people.

"My friends aren't doing it" - Grant, 12
Many kids want to fit in with the group and give up activities even if they like them.

So how can parents find a balance for their kids? What are some other options?

Many kids are more comfortable when the emphasis is on individual rather than group effort, as in bowling, golf, swimming, gymnastics, fencing, archery, running or martial arts. Many kids love dancing, from hip hop to ballet. Combining fun and exercise is often a good recipe for participation. There are many other ways in which they can join in, get fit and feel good doing some kind of physical activity.

Surprisingly, music and the dramatic arts offer many of the advantages of team sports, in that they require physical dexterity, learning to be part of a team, cooperating in performances, encouraging others, and social awareness. Often, music involves setting goals and achieving them through practice, just like competitive sports.

Tips for Parents

  • Respect and value your child's individual abilities and talents. Your child may have preferences and gifts in areas other than sports, such as music, drama, writing or art.

  • Realize that free play, child-organized games, and physical education programs in school can also provide opportunities for enough physical activity.

  • Make sure your child is physically and cognitively able to handle the demands of sports. Not until the age of six or seven are children developmentally ready for organized sports.

  • Make sure your child is playing because he wants to play. If he just wants to play informally, encourage him.

  • Understand that skill development is more important than competition. Kids stick with sports when they feel like they are improving.

  • If your child is resistant, try to find a fun, responsible, teenage athlete to take him to the park and practice skills. These younger instructors are often harder to resist.

  • If your child is enjoying just playing for fun, don't push her to try out for higher levels of competition. Let her progress at her own pace.

  • Don't focus on winning. Stay attuned to the child's signals. Try to assess whether the child is really interested in the activity or just participating to gain adult approval. Watch for signs that the child may not really be enjoying the sport or is experiencing the requirements as stress. Difficulty in sleeping or eating, or obsessive preoccupation with practice and winning may be warning signs.

  • Be a good cheerleader and leave coaching to the coach. Don't criticize the coach in front of your child. It often turns them off to the sport.

  • Check your own attitude. Be alert to the fact that at times coaches and parents become preoccupied with their own needs and are not sensitive to the need of the child.

  • Find the balance between being involved and being interested. Kids who feel that their families revolve around their activities, often give those activities up in adolescence to proclaim their independence.

  • Take your kids to family sporting activities such as swimming at the Y, picnics where you play softball or touch football, etc. Laugh together.