Thousands of kids participate in sports each year and most of these kids are able to do so with the luxury of being healthy.

In youth sports there are countless "teachable moments" that you can use to improve self-esteem and confidence - both of which can be used beyond the playing field.

Thousands of kids participate in sports each year and most of these kids are able to do so with the luxury of being healthy.

Unfortunately, not every child is free from disabilities, and many other kids are faced with limitations that may hinder their abilities. What can you do to help?

In this article I am using the term "disability" to describe any mental or physical limitation that potentially inhibits a child's ability to compete in youth sports in the same way other kids can.

Obviously the word "disability" can be interpreted in many different ways, so I offer general advice that will need to be uniquely applied to your family's situation.

First, don't avoid youth sports if at all possible. In my opinion, sport participation can be a wonderful therapeutic tool if used in a safe and responsible manner. Being a part of a team, learning the value of motivation and perseverance, and enjoying the thrill of exciting games are things all kids can experience. In youth sports there are countless "teachable moments" that you can use to improve self-esteem and confidence - both of which can be used beyond the playing field. There also are a countless number of athletic skills kids can learn while playing sports that can be used for success in school, social relationships, and every aspect of life. For example, sport skills like setting goals, communicating with coaches and teammates, being on time for practices and games, and making decisions during a game, are all skills that can be used every day. Remember, always reinforce and reward the effort, not the final score. If you are paying close attention, there always are moments in a game where you will see your child trying to do his or her best - be sure to overtly discuss these moments immediately after the game. Even if your child doesn't always succeed, you will help shape his or her personality by enhancing their self-esteem and confidence. Take great pride in your child every time he goes out to compete. When kids look into the crowd and see their parents excited and cheering them on, you can easily see the impact it has on character development and self-esteem. If your child has severe limitations, a traditional sports league may not always be the best option. Fortunately, many athletic organizations nationwide, including the Special Olympics, can provide your child with opportunities to play sports.
Regardless of which sports league your child competes in, the most important thing is that he or she has a fair chance to experience one of the greatest things about being a kid - being involved in youth sports!