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How to Choose the Right Sport for Your Child

When signing your child up for sports, it’s tempting to default to the game you loved as a kid, or the league that all your child’s friends are joining. But there’s more than just enjoyment and skill to consider: Which sports are riskier in terms of injuries? How will your child’s social and interpersonal skills develop if they compete in a solo sport like swimming or tennis versus a team game like soccer or volleyball?

photo of young girl playing soccer

In partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play and a diverse group of sport health advisors, experts from the HSS Sports Medicine Institute developed a tool for parents called the Healthy Sport Index that allows users to rank the relative importance of certain criteria to generate a personalized recommendation for which sports are the best match for their child.

“Parents face many challenges when selecting a sport for their children, often because they lack important information about the benefits and risks associated with certain sports,” says Joseph Janosky, Director of the Youth Sports Safety Program at HSS and a member of the project’s advisory group. “The Healthy Sport Index was created to help parents make informed decisions when choosing a sport for their kids.”

There are three factors to consider when choosing a sport:

  • Physical activity. This one seems obvious, but certain sports generate more movement than others. (Think cross-country running versus baseball.) Your child may respond better to a sport with more intense physical demands, or shorter spurts of activity.
  • Safety. Beyond just the immediate risk for injury, some sports place greater stress on the body in general, and have more long-term impact on a child’s health.
  • Psychosocial benefits. Playing a sport can have a huge influence on an athlete’s behavior, including their emotional, social, and academic skills. This can also vary widely between sports.

The Healthy Sport Index analyses all three aspects across 10 different boys’ and girls’ sports. In one example, cross-country ranks first in terms of physical activity but eighth out of 10 for psychosocial benefits. The tool also provides extra detail about why each sport is ranked a particular way.

When deciding what is most important for your child, think about the areas in which they could see the most benefit from a sport. If all three factors are equally important to you, there are options that accommodate those needs too.

“Being able to compare the positive and negative aspects of specific sports gives parents the ability to make a more objective decision, based on what they value most for their child,” says Janosky. “We hope this will contribute to improved health for children now and throughout their lifetime.”

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