There are a lot of articles written about how team sports are an essential part of childhood, because they teach essential social skills and help build strong bones and muscles. As a family, we purposely choose individual sports to accommodate our kids’ special needs. Kids with disabilities can participate in individual sports and develop all of the same skills without the complex social dynamics of a team.
Activity is critical to development
Play and movement are critical to kids’ development. Humans have to expend energy and develop hand-eye coordination for our brains to be able to grow and develop. Individual sports like tennis, golf and fencing engage muscles and strengthen bones in the same way as team sports. Sports that emphasize control and repetitiveness, like martial arts and swimming, add structure and focus and develop motor skills.
Any sport can develop key skills
We all want our children to develop self-esteem, learn to overcome disappointment, and have a sense of belonging. Learning new skills for any sport helps kids see that hard work pays off, while competitions teach them to overcome obstacles and set goals.
Competitors in any sport have to learn discipline and to follow the rules and develop technique. Setting goals and learning to self-advocate are all skills which create sportsmanship and build self-esteem and character.
Remove the pressure of team expectations
That feeling of contributing to a team and belonging to something bigger than you exists in individual sports, without the pressure of performance. If your kid has ADHD, cerebral palsy, or a life-threatening allergy, individual sports allow them to participate without the pressure that can come with teammates who are dependent on the child’s performance.
Team sports have a unique goal to get the players to work well together while doing different jobs. This can cause coaches to prioritize team performance over the development of individuals, so kids get pigeonholed into a position and don’t get a chance to challenge their weaknesses. Individual sports involve a lot of one-on-one communication and feedback with the coach and allow kids to compete even when they’re not the best on the team.
Fewer sports parents’ dynamics
We’ve all read the stories or experienced the shame of an overly enthusiastic parent of a player. It can be a person who pressures their child unrelentingly to achieve and get better. Or it can be the parent who gets ejected from the spectator seats for screaming at the officials, or worse, a child.
Although it’s impossible to remove those kinds of parents from youth sports, you can minimize the chance of your child being the target of their comments with an individual sport. Eliminating playing time and position arguments can go a long way towards letting your kid enjoy a sport.
Individual sports teach life skills without player pressure
Sports, activities, and outdoor play are an essential part of childhood. If your child has a disability that limits motor control or results in a lack of impulse control, consider an individual sport instead of a team sport. Your child will still develop resilience, sportsmanship, and discipline without the demands of the team riding on their performance. They’re more likely to get playing time, even if they’re not the best on the roster, and still reap the benefits of friendships and encouragement from other players.