Q. My son has dabbled in team sports—soccer and basketball—to mixed results. He seems to do better in individual sports; he likes swimming and he tried golf camp this summer. I’m having trouble giving up on the idea that team sports would do him more good. What can he gain from individual sports?
A. A lot can be gained from participating in a sport as an individual, especially if your son loves the sport and is motivated to become better at it in competing with other individuals. Even if he is not concerned with being the best but wants to gain some skill for his own pleasure, much can be gained from being in an individual sport.
Examples of individual sports include boxing, wrestling, golf, fencing, martial arts, tennis, ice skating, skiing, rodeo events and much more. Several sports have both team and individual components, such as track and swimming.
So, what can a child learn and/or gain by competing as an individual in a sport?
- Learn how to win graciously. Winning builds self-confidence in an individual sport when the child sees a win as due to his hard work and skill. When a child on a team celebrates a team win, he usually has to give credit to coaches and teammates. He may see his part as a small one—or maybe he never got a chance to play in that particular game, so he sees that he did not contribute to the win. He may even feel sad or disappointed in himself thinking that he wasn’t good enough to be sent in to play in this game.
- Learn how to lose graciously. In addition, the child learns to work harder so she can win in the future. In team sports, a child can blame the coach or teammates, but in an individual sport, she has to learn to accept responsibility for a loss or a poor performance.
- Set individual goals and attain them at his own pace. It’s easier to start at any skill level in an individual sport. In team sports, children are typically expected to meet the skill level of teammates, even if their teammates have been playing longer.
- Enjoy the opportunity to develop self-motivation, self-discipline and time management. These are great benefits of participating in individual sports.
- Build independence. Team sports can sometimes involve peer pressure to conform, while individual sports can emphasize the importance of standing out.
- Accept criticism. Because of more personal and frequent critique in individual sports, a child can learn to hear a critique and use it to become better.
Kids who are shy or who prefer working alone rather than in a larger group often do better in individual sports over group sports. They can work at their own pace and don’t have to be concerned with dealing with the personalities and pace of teammates.
While there are many benefits to individual sports, the important thing may be to go with what your child does better in, and you say that is individual sports. Sometimes we want a child to play the sport we played or we live vicariously through our children and want them to get to play or do something we didn’t get to do. It’s usually better to recognize our hidden or not so hidden motives and go with what a child is best at, has an interest in and what she is willing to fully participate in.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.
Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!