‘Must My Kids Be in Sports?’

When parents feel more pressure on this topic than kids do, something's seriously awry

I’ve been a pediatrician for 30 years and raised four children of my own. Here, I answer a question posed to me by a parent — a question many other parents will be able to relate to and understand.

Dear Dr. Meg:
I feel pressure to sign my kids up for sports, but I’m not sure how I feel about their involvement with extracurricular activates at this point. What should I do?

Thank you for your help,

Work sports around the family schedule, not the other way around.

Dear José,
Welcome to the 21st century, where life for kids is all about sports, sports, and more sports. Doesn’t it make you feel kind of crazy?

Many of my patients talk about the fact that they want to help their teens not cave to pressure. You know why? Because many parents feel more peer pressure than kids do.

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We feel the need to parent our children the way our friends parent their children. If our friends have their kids in two or three sports per semester, we feel like a bad parent if our child is only in one. But signing your kids up for sports simply because the other parents are is a terrible reason to do it.

You have the right, and the obligation, to put your kids in the number of sports that is right for them and your family.

Related: How to Be a ‘Big Picture’ Mom

Another reason I think parents sign their kids up for sports is because they want their child to be the next Olympic swimmer, gymnast, ice-skating champion — what have you. Yes, there are a lot of great lessons about life, teamwork, and character to be learned in youth sports, but as a longtime pediatrician I can tell you that 99 percent of kids who are sports crazy in school never even end up playing sports in college.

Chances are, you are not ruining your child’s future by not signing him up for T-ball at age three.

Now let me throw this question back at you. What do you want your kids to do? How many sports do you want them to be involved in?

Not sure? Here is how you can make the decision: Figure out what you want for your family first. How much time do you want your family to spend together? I think every family needs to eat four meals together each week. Non-negotiable. Studies show the more times you have dinner with your kids the healthier they become.

So prioritize around that — family time. Work sports around the family schedule, and not the other way around. Once you’ve set how much time you want your family to spend together each week and you see that it leaves room for sports, go ahead and sign up your child for one.

Related: Keeping Our Young Stars’ Feet on the Ground

If he really wants to do two sports and he has time for it without cutting into family time, go for it.

Don’t look at sports as the key to your child’s future and potential. Spending time with you is actually what will develop his character most and ensure he has a successful future. So look at sports as playtime — something your child can enjoy. And remember, family time always comes first.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” which is part of The Strong Parent Project.

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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