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Advice for Patients
April 4, 2011

Children and Organized Sports

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(4):376. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.31

Many children participate in organized youth sports. In the United States, it is estimated that 44 million children participate in at least 1 sports team. There are many benefits to children from participating in sports, including learning about fitness, teamwork, and discipline. Parents and coaches can work together to help encourage children to enjoy sports safely.

Guidelines for children in sports


  • Younger children are at higher risk for injury related to organized sports, so they may need modified guidelines for playing in certain sports to reduce the chance of injury. Guidelines such as no headfirst sliding in baseball and no bodychecking in hockey are examples of modifications to reduce injury among younger players. Other safety guidelines can include smaller playing fields, shorter game times, and matching opponents by weight rather than age.

  • Be sure your child wears all protective gear appropriate for that sport. This may include helmets, knee pads, or mouth guards. Many sports-related injuries occur during practices so it is important that your child wears the appropriate gear for both practices as well as games.

  • Ensure that your child drinks enough fluids to stay hydrated during sports practices and games. Fancy sports drinks are not needed to stay hydrated; a simple water bottle will work fine.


  • Encourage your child to experience a variety of sports. Focusing on only one sport from a young age, sometimes called “sports specialization,” may mean that your child misses out on the opportunity to learn about other sports that he or she may enjoy.

  • Remember that the purpose of youth sports is not to win but to learn, experience, and enjoy.

  • Parent participation in their children's sports is important, but too much emphasis on competition or performance may rob children of the opportunity to learn that sports and exercise can be fun.


  • Participating in sports allows opportunities for children and teens to learn about rules, turn taking, good sportsmanship, and teamwork.


  • Sports are a great way to complement, not replace, regular exercise that is part of free play, child-organized games, recreational sports, or physical education classes. Some sports practices may not provide the full recommendation for daily exercise. A recent study in this month's Archives found that some sports practices did not meet the daily guidelines for exercise. The researchers concluded that teaching coaches and parents about providing opportunities for both exercise and sports experience for all players may help improve children's fitness.

If you have questions about your child's participation in sports

Your pediatrician can assess your child's developmental readiness to participate in an organized sport, as well as provide medical screening prior to starting the sport.

Inform yourself

To find this and other Advice for Patients articles, go to the Advice for Patients link on the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine Web site at

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Statement on Organized Sports for Children and Adolescents

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