This past week, soccer star David Beckham posted videos on his official Instagram account of him giving his six-year-old-daughter Harper her first “football lesson.” From the looks of it, she may have inherited some of his talent – Harper was a natural kicking the ball right to her father!
Beckham’s sweet post illustrates how playing sports with your children can have so many benefits. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and co-author of the recently released "Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends" says, “Parents and children enjoying each other's company is essential for child development. It's the foundation of our relationships and the greatest joy of parenting. It can also be healing when kids are struggling in other areas.”
However, many parents today prefer to have their children involved in organized sports rather than just going outside and kicking a ball around. Kennedy-Moore understands why parents might want their children to learn about sports from professional coaches. She explains, “It is often easier on both kids and parents if someone else is in charge of teaching certain technical skills. Parents tend to fantasize about sharing our wisdom with our children, but criticism from a parent can be hard for kids to take, and they don't always respond enthusiastically to our tips or suggestions.” Organized sports allow children to learn skills alongside peers with proper supervision.
But the de-emphasis on “just playing” in favor of organized sports involvement has a downside. Rick Wolff, WFAN Sports Radio personality and author of the forthcoming book "Secrets of Sports Psychology Revealed" says, “As caring parents, we of course want to do what we can for our child. In youth sports today that means private coaching, elite summer camps, travel teams, state of the art equipment, etc.”
Youth sports have become less about having a good time and getting exercise and more focused on competition. Wolff says, “Sports parents today understandably dream and fantasize that their little one will indeed be richly blessed with superior athletic talent as well as the inner drive to succeed in sports. And when our child scores a goal, or makes a basket, or gets a hit, that special moment of success only serves to reinforce parental dreams.”
The problem is that even the most talented, hard-working and determined child athletes are not destined to be sports superstars. “Sadly, for more than 96 percent of all high school varsity athletes, their playing days end when they finish high school," says Wolff. "Very few athletes are good enough to play in college.”
Wolff adds, “Even worse, the element of fun was most likely lost somewhere along the way.” That sentiment was echoed by a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports that estimated around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. The main reason for quitting was because “it’s just not fun anymore.”
Watching Beckham and his daughter play together is a great reminder that sports are supposed to be fun. Kicking around a ball in your yard or shooting hoops is a great way for parents and kids to spend time together. In fact, the best part of Beckham’s post was the caption (12 hearts with a soccer ball in the middle) and the big hug he gave his daughter at the end of the lesson. While all parents may not be able to teach their kids to “bend it like Beckham,” they can let their child know they love them and will always be “superstars” in their parents’ eyes.