Youth Sports Engagement - What's Right for My Child?

By: Eva Timothy, Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor

boys soccer team huddled together

Sports participation and viewing have long been traditions amongst many cultures around the globe, bringing people of various backgrounds together. A common belief suggests participation in sports builds character and benefits youth positively. As parents seek to provide enriching opportunities for their children, they often do not know exactly what benefits result from sports participation. Additionally, what if a child does not care for the competition that comes with organized sports? Is there a way to keep youth physically active outside of sports? Let us first discuss the real facts behind youth sports participation before we discuss alternatives. 

Pros Cons
Can help to prevent obesity through regular physical activity Increased sports injuries
75% of U.S. youth play a sport By age 15, 80% stop playing sports
Exposure to many sports is physically and mentally beneficial for young children Too much emphasis by adults is placed on winning and being highly skilled 
It’s a good way for youth to have fun Parents think youth participate to win
Minimizes screen time, eating out of boredom, and mental health concerns Busy schedules lead to eating more processed and less healthy meals
Athletes are more likely to do well in school, avoid drugs, and make healthier food choices Adolescent sports participation disparities exist between races 
Females are less likely to experience teen pregnancies when they participate in sports The cost of sports can be a burden on families
Coaching does not require special training, certification, or skill for most adults who wish to fill the role.  Lack of training can lead to sports injuries and youth attrition because of varying negative experiences with a coach
Sports build character, the ability to work well with others, and mutual respect amongst peers The development of character, teamwork, and respect cannot occur unless coaches and parents teach these values to young athletes. 

Information obtained from Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes by Donna L. Merkel, 2013.

The Center for Disease Control (2022) that youth ages 6-17 engage in 60 minutes of physical activity that increases the heart rate at least 5 times a week. If your child is not interested in sports, there are other ways to encourage regular physical activity. Keep in mind that youth will more likely engage in physical activity when it is fun. As you search for ways to help your child engage in activities that increase their heart rate, talk to them to determine their interests. What does your child enjoy doing? What would they like to try? Here are some alternatives to sports that can help keep your child physically active and healthy.

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Night games in the neighborhood. Think tag or hosts in the graveyard
  • Jumping Rope
  • Boxing or martial arts
  • Trilobite digging and exploration
  • Swimming
  • Scavenger hunts in the neighborhood
  • Garden together
  • Jump on the trampoline
  • Have a hulu hoop contest
For other great ideas on how you can get the whole family moving together in a fun way, check out the Strong Bodies, Strong Families guide at 


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 7). How much physical activity do children need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from 

Merkel D. L. (2013). Youth sport: positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open access journal of sports  medicine, 4, 151–160.