Is It Better for My Child to Play a Team Sport or an Individual Sport?

Question: I love seeing my child involved in individual activities, but I don’t want to raise an antisocial child. I want my kid to learn to be a good team player. Should I be concerned that he seems more oriented toward individual sports?

Discussion: This may sound obvious, but, for starters, it’s important to note that kids have different temperaments. Outgoing kids are drawn to team sports, like football or basketball, while more introverted children tend to want to participate in individual sports, such as tennis or golf, if they want to play competitive sports at all. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it is surprising how often it is the case.

Solution: You can interest introverted kids in an array of sports, but it’s best—at least at the start—for the sport to be a little quieter and less hectic than, say, baseball or football, which involve large, boisterous groups of kids. A sport like tennis can serve as a social bridge for a typically quieter and somewhat introverted child. It’s individually oriented, but when he plays, he interacts with an opponent and is part of a squad with a few teammates.

One thing’s for certain: There is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with individual sports if your child feels more comfortable with them. If sports like golf or tennis don’t fit the bill, dial it a back a bit further and start with more solitary activities like climbing, running, canoeing, or hiking.

Be sure to join in if you can. Use the activity as a pathway to develop and strengthen your connection with your child. Peruse hiking magazines and trail books with him. Help him pack his backpack. Introverted kids usually want, and probably can only handle, a few more-intimate connections and friendships. You can help expand your child’s social world a bit by doing activities with him, and then inviting one or two kids who also like the activity to join him. Keep it small and intimate but not isolated.

Another thing to consider: Your child may be seeking life balance. If his life is pressured and hectic, he could be gravitating toward solitary activities as a self-protective, life balancing measure in order to find an oasis of calm. If that’s the case, go with it. Help facilitate such activities, and also look for ways you can help simplify his outer life so that he feels less pressured. That may lead him to seek more engagement with others. ♦

From Kim John Payne, Luis Fernando Llosa, & Scott Lancaster. Beyond Winnning: Smart Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment (Lyons Press, Connecticut).

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