Activity is very important for children. One of the contributors to the obesity epidemic is lack of activity. There are multiple factors that contribute to children not moving: lack of safe playgrounds, parents working until late at night, video games, and decreased PE programs in the public school system, to name just a few.

Noncompetitive sports are an excellent way to get kids moving. Swimming, biking, hiking, backpacking, and camping are wonderful ways to introduce children to the world of nature and develop a love for God’s wonderful world. In addition, noncompetitive sports have less risk of injury and developing a “competitive spirit” which can be a handicap to working well with others. Our family recently went on our first backpacking adventure with our 4- and 6-year olds. We have been camping with them for years, but this was our first foray into a world without toilets and showers and cell phones. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did on the trip. They loved having mom and dad’s undivided attention. I enjoyed having a conversation with them without my cell phone interrupting with a “ping” to signal a text message or page. I hadn’t realized how much technology had intruded into time with my children until it was removed. 

For those parents who aren’t able to take their children out due to work or other life issues, a carefully chosen sports program can help keep your child moving. Risk of injury depends on child’s age, size, and maturity level. This article by Physiopedia is excellent and summarizes childhood sports and risk of injury. I’ll briefly summarize the findings:

The highest rates for pediatric sports injuries occur in boys aged 10-14 years and are more likely to occur during team sport activity. Girls are more likely to suffer an overuse injury and are also more likely than boys to tear the ACL ligament of their knee (especially in soccer or basketball).

Pre-pubertal children’s bones are still growing. The ends of the bones of something called a “physeal plate.” This is where new bone is made. It is more vulnerable to fracture as the bone hasn’t calcified yet.  It is important if a fracture does occur that your child seek prompt medical attention as untreated injuries to the physeal plate can damage the growth potential of bones–leading to limb length discrepancy. Children who have completed puberty are less likely to have fractures and more likely to have a sprain or strain injury.

Sports injuries are common in child-athletes but should not deter parents from keeping your child playing. The risks of inactivity and obesity far outweigh the potential for a sport’s related injury. However, prudence in choosing a coach, and sport that best fits the needs of your child can help prevent injuries. 

Today’s Parent has an excellent article on how to pick the right coach for your child. In brief:

1) Look at the coach’s approach. Is the focus on fairness or competition? Does the coach focus on team building or developing an elite set of players that will win no matter what? A coach can have a huge impact on your child. Choose one that has a coaching style you want your child to emulate. 

2) Does the coach welcome beginners? This is especially important for children who are just beginning a physically active sports program. It is vital for them to not get discouraged and feel that they are thought of as “clumsy or dumb.” 

3) Is the sport right for your child? Sometimes this will take trial and error. Sign up for a limited time period. This allows your child to complete what was started, but gives them an out if the sport is really not what they enjoy.


About the Author

Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

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