Creating optimal balance for your child participating in youth sports

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Many years ago while studying people who I considered to be the happiest, healthiest and most productive people I knew, I spent significant time trying to simplify their successes to a few basic similarities I saw amongst them. None of these people knew one another, as my models for this study included athletes, scholars and successful business people.

However, I found that they all shared a common trait amongst one another: They all worked hard to keep a healthy balance in their lives and dedicated their time and energies to various things in life that made them happy and completed them as people.

I found that for the scholar, making sure to exercise regularly was vitally important; for the athlete, making regular time each week to volunteer in the community made him happy; for the businessman, making time to play guitar on weekends made him feel complete.

In essence, I came to learn that finding personal values and making sure to develop a lifestyle around those values enable people to become peak performers in all areas of their lives.

Your child is no different. I believe allowing (or in some cases making) him or her specialize and play one sport year-round at the expense of seeking how to help the child better understand all of his or her interests is a grave mistake. In situations where a child's growth is stifled because of only participating in one activity, the end result almost always will be burnout.

On the other hand, helping your child explore who he or she is and the things that complete him or her can lead to greater happiness, personal health and greater productivity -- and in all areas of his or her life, even in sports.

To help your child achieve optimal balance try the following:

* Take time out of your schedule and ask your child to talk about all the things he or she likes to do (or is interested in doing in the future). Listen closely without making any judgments and take time to write notes as he or she speaks.

* Afterwards, take time to review the list by yourself away from your child and give yourself time to brainstorm as many ways as you can to help incorporate some of these ideas into your child's life.

* Next, take time to meet again with your child and talk about your new ideas. As you go down the list, ask your child for clarification to see if you heard him or her correctly the first time and revisit the reasons why he or she felt these things were important.

* Finally, work with your child to attach proportions to what is realistic for these ideas. For example, if your child says that school, soccer, basketball, drawing and helping his grandparents are important to him, try to see how you can develop a lifestyle that incorporates all these things in proportion. For example, he might have soccer practice every day and only help his grandparents on the weekends.

* Help your child understand that this exercise has no right or wrong answers, as each person is an individual and what is important to one person might not be at all to another. Encourage your child to break down stereotypes whenever possible, too. For example, if your son likes to cook or participate in the theatre, try to find ways to help him feel comfortable doing these things.

By creating optimal balance for your child, he or she will be a much happier and successful person, and by applying this strategy to sports, he or she will become a better athlete, too. When a child understands his or her values, only then can he or she can begin to live a life of conviction and not get burned out continually doing the same things. Optimal balance requires self- exploration, and your child's values will change over time so be sure to do this exercise with your child for many years to come.

Dr. Chris Stankovich is an expert in sport psychology and has co-written two books, The Parent Playbook and Positive Transitions for Student Athletes. If you have a sports question,chris@drstankovich.com, visit DrStankovich.com or call 614-561-4482.