Helping you pick the right sport for your child

It seems like a parenting no-brainer: When children do something well, they feel better about themselves and are more likely to keep doing it.

But spend time on the sports sidelines of America and you'll see more than a few kids doing a sport only because their parents are convinced that if Johnny and Jill would just try harder, they'll excel. Unfortunately, that's not how it works.

In this month's Go-To Guide, we explain how you can help your child find sports they are naturally best suited to mastering and enjoying.

Phase One: Laying the Foundation
Contrary to popular myth, those famous Communist sports machines did not choose sports for children at single-digit ages. That's because so much can change with a child's physique between preschool and high school. Short, little speed demons can lengthen out into long, tall sloths.

Between the ages of 5 and 11, you just want to lay the foundation for future learning (and for the love of Olympus, before age 5, just let them play). During the grade-school years is when exercise physiologists say you "teach the nerves how to talk to the muscles."

What that means in parenting terms is: Let your kids try different sports and physical activities, but work in something that will enhance the body's ability to learn where it is in space.

That's called "body awareness," and it happens when your nervous system knows exactly how much oomph it takes to get a muscle to move. Activities like the martial arts, dance, gymnastics and swimming are great for enhancing body awareness.

Some people naturally have more body awareness than others - and those with extraordinary body awareness are your future Olympians. But activities that require fluid whole-body movement enhances anyone's ability to move efficiently. It also enables them to pick up skills needed in other sports more easily.

Phase Two: The Window of Opportunity
Between the ages of about 11 and 14 is "the window of opportunity" for mastering a sport and preparing the body for harder training later (if that's what the child wants to do).

It's when the body's nerves and muscles are ripe for acquiring skills - and don't believe anyone who tells you that a child needs to be sinking 1,000 jump shots or swimming 10,000 yards a day in grade school; adolescent growth will undo skills acquired too early, leading to frustration and burnout.

If a favorite sport hasn't yet emerged and you're trying to help your child pick one, this is when you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. That's because research overwhelmingly shows that your child's adult physique will be just like the parents' - and most often like the mother's.

One of the biggest challenges that youth coaches face are parents who think that their child will magically turn out to be basketball-tall or gymnastics-flexible when they themselves are not. So be honest with yourself!

Then assess what's going on physically with your child. To make this a little easier, we've developed a list of descriptive phrases, a short explanation of how each applies to physical activities, and then a list of sports that people who match those adjectives might want to try.

All of these sports have training or competitive opportunities in Central Ohio. On our website, ColumbusParent.com, we've assembled a list of training options that are not a part of school sports systems. If you know of more, please add them to our online comments.

Phase Three: Matching Natural Attributes to Activities

Has great speed: This means the body's muscles are mostly composed of fast-twitch fibers that enable them to move and react quickly to the instructions that the nervous system is giving them: badminton, baseball/softball, basketball, board/ski sports, boxing, diving, fencing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, track and field, volleyball, wrestling.
Has great stamina: This means the body has mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers which can support the same type of movement for an extended period of time; sometimes, but not always, this person might not possess much speed: crew, cross-country skiing, distance swimming, distance track events.
Note: People with ADHD also tend to do very well with endurance sports. It seems counter-intuitive because of the length of time that concentration is required, but that bottomless pit of energy and the soothing structure of repetitive movement are very complementary.
Has both speed and stamina: or has neither in abundance: crew, figure skating, golf, soccer, middle-distance swimming, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, middle-distance track events, water polo.
Agile: Can execute small, quick movements with precision: badminton, basketball, board/ski sports, bowling, boxing, fencing, field hockey, figure skating, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, synchronized swimming, track and field, water polo, wrestling, volleyball.
Flexible: Can move the limbs through a noticeably wide range of motion and is more prone to dislocating joints: diving, fencing, figure skating, gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, synchronized swimming, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.
Note: An athlete who is flexible to the point of having hyper-extended or double-jointed limbs should probably avoid contact sports.
Powerful: Can focus a burst of energy effectively and efficiently: baseball/softball, crew, sprint cycling events, fencing, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.
Short legs: This doesn't always mean the athlete is short, but often he or she is. Mostly it means that the torso and legs are about the same length, so the athlete has what's known as a "low center of gravity" which makes it easier to control movement close to the ground: board/ski sports, field hockey, some positions in football, ice hockey, martial arts, track sprints, soccer, wrestling.
Long legs: Again, not always tall, but often is. This means the athlete's torso is shorter in relation to the legs and has a high center of gravity which makes it easier to control other types of movement: crew, golf, high jump, pole vault, volleyball.
High Pain Tolerance: This person can deal with the kind of pain that anaerobic or lactic-acid-generating activity creates: crew, synchronized swimming, middle-distance swimming, middle-distance track events, water polo.
Good Balance: This is the child who doesn't seem to get hurt no matter what dumb risks he or she takes, whether climbing up or jumping off things: archery, bowling, curling, diving, equestrian, figure skating, football, golf, gymnastics, soccer, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.
Fearless: Usually goes hand-in-hand with having good balance, but also includes a certain lack of concern about physical well being: diving, gymnastics, pole vault, water polo.
Can turn the brain off: No, this is not a polite way of saying "dumb." It's just that people like this are able to stop thinking and let instincts take over: boxing, swimming sprints, track sprints.
Note: Don't be surprised if a child who is hyperanalytical does not do well with these sports.
Steady: This is more a neurological than a physical trait. People with great steadiness have the ability to calm themselves down so much they can discern their own heartbeat and launch movement between heartbeats: archery, billiards, bowling, golf, riflery.
Great eye sight: Sees fine details easily and can judge how far away something is: archery, baseball/softball, billiards, bowling, golf, riflery, tennis/squash, volleyball.

Richard Hawes is a professor of physical education, specializing in exercise physiology and kinesiology, at Ohio Wesleyan University. His wife Jane Hawes, who is also the editor of Columbus Parent, took the big scientific words he uses and translated them into plain English.



MULTI-SPORTS and/or PERSONAL TRAINING FACILITIES:
Columbus Fitness Training, 5700 Perimeter Drive, Suite D, Dublin, 614-761-9242, http://www.columbusfitnesstraining.com/ d1 Sports Training, 8080 N. High St., Columbus (Worthington), OH, 614-515-5672, http://www.d1sportstraining.com/ Fitness Planning, 6561 Dublin Center Dr., Dublin, 614-460-5348, http://fitnessplanning.com/index.html The Little Gym of Polaris (specializes in motor-skill training for young children), 8645 Sancus Blvd., Columbus, 614-430-3355, http://www.thelittlegym.com/polarisoh/pages/default.aspx MAX Sports Center, through the OhioHealth network, has locations in Columbus, Dublin, Pickerington and Westerville, http://www.maxsportscenter.com/default.aspx Soar Fitness Systems, 723 Radio Dr., Lewis Center, 614-573-8488, http://www.soarofcolumbus.com/ Sports Ohio, 6314 Cosgray Rd., Dublin, 614-791-3003, http://www.sportsohio.org/

NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN MULTIPLE SPORTS:
Amateur Athletic Union: The national organization's website can direct you to competitive opportunities in Central Ohio in sports like basketball, track & field, diving, gymnastics, wrestling and the martial arts. http://www.aausports.org/ Columbus Jewish Community Center near Bexley: http://www.columbusjcc.org/ "The Y" YMCA, short for Young Men's Christian Association, recently rebranded itself as simply "The Y." Most Y's offer instruction and sometimes have competitive clubs in a variety of sports. There are multiple locations throughout Central Ohio. http://www.ymcacolumbus.org/
ARCHERY:
The Ohio Society of Traditional Archers is one organization that provides guidance in the sport: http://www.tradarchers.org/ . A1Archery in Hilliard is a shop that offers instruction, equipment and competition: http://www.a1archeryonline.com/. The Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware also offers archery: http://blackwingsc.com/archery/

BADMINTON:
The national organization is represented in this area through the Midwest Badminton Association (http://www.midwestbadminton.com/). There are no badminton clubs currently in Central Ohio, but these recreation centers have hosted instructional clinics and leagues: Worthington (http://www.worthington.org/services/communitycenter.cfm), Dublin (http://www.dublin.oh.us/recreation/), and Columbus's Woodward Park Recreation Center (http://parks.columbus.gov/Facility.aspx?id=26096) and Carriage Place Recreation Center (http://parks.columbus.gov/Facility.aspx?id=26062).

BASEBALL/SOFTBALL:
Instruction and competition are readily available through most municipal parks and recreation systems. You can also search for a league using the Little League Baseball and Softball search engine: http://www.eteamz.com/llb/finder/index.cfm?region=1&district=all&state=35
For a directory of personal-instruction coaches, you can try these sites: http://baseballtips.com/instructors/ohio.html; http://www.thebattersboxacademy.com

BASKETBALL:
Instruction and competition are readily available through most municipal parks and recreation systems. The Amateur Athletic Union is the national governing body for many youth basketball clubs (http://www.aausports.org/). Ohio Sports Plus is an instructional and league-play facility in Dublin (http://www.ohiosportsplus.com/).

BILLIARDS:
The National Billiard Academy is headquartered in Columbus: http://www.poolclinics.com/classes.html

BOWLING:
The Columbus Bowling Association is the local chapter of the United States Bowling Congress: http://www.bowlcolumbus.org/IndexCBA.asp?Ref=1

BOXING:
The Ohio Association is the local boxing committee for the USA Boxing organization: http://www.palzanesville.org/gpage.html. Here also is a directory of boxing gyms in the area:
http://www.boxinggyms.com/addresses/ohio.htm

CREW/ROWING:
There are several clubs in the area, including: Dublin Crew: http://www.highschoolrowing.org/,
The Greater Columbus Rowing Association: http://www.columbusrowing.org/inside/, The Ohio Athletic Club: http://www.ohiorowing.org/, and the Westerville Rowing Club: http://www.westervillecrew.org/.

CURLING:
The Columbus Curling Club offers instruction and competition: http://www.columbuscurling.com/

CYCLING:
Here's a directory of clubs that are affiliated with USA Cycling, the sport's national organization: http://www.usacycling.org/clubs/index.php?state=OH, but your best bet for getting a kid (or yourself) started in cycling is to go to any bike shop in the area and talk to the staff there.

DIVING:
USA Diving is the national organization for the sport. Use this club finder to find certified instructors in Central Ohio:
https://webpoint.usadiving.org/website/search/srchclubs.asp

FENCING:
Profencing LLC offers instruction at Westerville and Dublin locations: http://www.profencing-proesgrima.com/701/index.html The Columbus Fencers Club maintains this directory of instruction and competitive clubs in the area: http://columbusfencing.org/where_can_I_fence.html. The United States Fencing Association is another source of information about clubs, instructors and camps: http://usfencing.org/.

FIELD HOCKEY:
Instruction and competition are usually available through some public-school school districts in the area, as well as most private schools. Summer camps are another source of instruction. Visit this website maintained by the USA Field Hockey association to find the most recent listing of camps in the area: http://www.usfieldhockey.com/cgi-bin/scripts/camps.cgi?OH&&State. The Sports Ohio facility in Dublin also provides instruction: http://www.sportsohio.org/

FIGURE SKATING:
A good place to start for finding figure-skating instruction in the area is the Chiller organization and ice rinks: http://www.thechiller.com/.

FOOTBALL:
Instruction and competition are readily available through most municipal parks and recreation systems. The Columbus Youth Football League is one such organization: http://www.columbusyfl.com/

GOLF:
Instruction is available through many parks and recreation districts in the area, as well as any golf or country club. The Sports Ohio facility also offers instruction: http://www.thegolfcenteratsportsohio.org/

GYMNASTICS:
This directory has a listing of gymnastics (and cheerleading) facilities in the area, most of which are members of the USA Gymnastics organization: http://www.usgyms.net/ohio.htm

ICE HOCKEY:
Most instruction and competition in the area is organized through the Chiller organization and ice rinks: http://www.thechiller.com/.

LACROSSE:
Instruction and competition are usually available through some public-school school districts in the area, as well as most private schools. The Ohio Lacrosse Foundation, which is a part of the US Lacrosse organization, is another source of information: http://www.ohlax.com. The Sports Ohio facility in Dublin also provides instruction: http://www.sportsohio.org/

MARTIAL ARTS:
The Amateur Athletic Union is the governing body for many taekwondo and martial arts facilities in the area. Use their locator map to find clubs in this area: http://www.aausports.org/

RIFLERY/SHOOTING:
Black Wing Shooting Center offers services in Delaware (http://blackwingsc.com/). The range at the Powder Room in Powell is currently closed for inspection but has been around for 37 years: http://powderrm.com/. Ohio Valley Outdoors in Lancaster is another local gun range: http://ovoutdoors.com/.

SNOW SKI/BOARD SPORTS:
The Columbus Ski Club is a good place to start when looking for snow ski and board sport instruction (http://www.columbusskiclub.org/csc/Skiing/LearntoSkiBoardBetter.aspx). Many people travel out to Mad River Mountain in Zanesfield for actual skiing (http://www.skimadriver.com/).

SOCCER:
Instruction and competition are available through most parks and recreation districts in the area. US Youth Soccer is the national organizing body and here is a searchable directory of clubs in the organization: http://www.usyouthsoccer.org/clubdirectoryhome.asp

SWIMMING:
Search for certified USA Swimming clubs through the search engine on the national organization's website: http://usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=1802&Alias=Rainbow&Lang=en

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING:
The Columbus Coralinas are a longtime club in the area: http://coralinas.ning.com/. The Lancaster Synchro Rays are another club: http://www.synchrorays.webs.com/.

TENNIS/SQUASH:
Instruction is available through many parks and recreation districts in the area, as well as any private tennis club and most golf or country clubs.

TRACK & FIELD:
The Amateur Athletic Union is the organizing association for most track clubs in the area (http://www.aausports.org/). The USA Track & Field Association (http://www.usatf.org/clubs/search/) is another governing body involved in youth track and field instruction and competition.

WATER POLO:
Outside of school-district or country-club programs, Chimera Ohio is currently the only water-polo club in the area. Contact Shawn Cline at shawnc@columbus.rr.com

WATER SKI/BOARD SPORTS
The Ohio Water Ski Association (http://skiowsa.com/) has links to clubs and developmental events. Wake Nation is a man-made facility that also offers instruction in Fairfield, Ohio (www.wakenation.com).

WRESTLING:
The Amateur Athletic Union is the governing body for most wrestling clubs and competitions in the U.S. Use their locator map to find clubs in this area: http://www.aausports.org/

VOLLEYBALL:
Sports Ohio in Dublin offers instruction: http://www.fieldsports.org/volleyball.html