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We all have memories of sports as children – but those might be happy recollections of days spent outside playing, or traumatising nightmares.

All too often, the horrors of PE class can lead a kid feeling miserable and picked-on, and ultimately giving up on sport altogether.

As parents, the last thing we want is for our kids to abandon sports classes. That’s particularly true in this day and age, when digital entertainment often replaces running around outside, and childhood obesity is on the rise. But how can you ensure that you find the right sport for your child?

The plays and sports of children are as salutary to them as labor and work are to grown persons.

Samuel Richardson

Individual or team?

This is a big question, and it will depend a lot on your child’s personality. Both team and individual sports have a lot to offer – but equally, if a child is not suited to them, they can end in disaster.

Team sports like football and rugby give children the chance to socialise, make friends and improve their social skills. When we think about sporty activities for children, this is often what springs to mind. From a psychological point of view, they can be ideal for calming a self-centred child, or for teaching a youngster to cooperate and adapt. Children often develop a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Many kids who struggle with discipline at school or at home can flourish with careful team sports coaching.

On the other hand, shy or nervous children might wilt under the pressure of a team environment. Sadly, if your youngster has low self-esteem, primary school sports sessions can make them feel worse as they find themselves beaten by their peers time and time again. Individual sports such as tennis or gymnastics can lead to a different kind of personal growth. Children often grow confident and more self-assured, as they are unable to hide behind anyone else. They become more responsible and develop the ability to stand on their own two feet.

If you’re worried about socialising, remember that your child can still meet peers and make friends through sports lessons, even if their chosen discipline is individual, like martial arts or swimming. Some youngsters will really flourish when given the chance to take responsibility for their own sporting success.

Exploring possibilities

Let’s be honest: your child probably won’t fall in love with the first sport they encounter. It’s a good idea to expose them to as many sports as possible, to see what might catch their eye. This could take the form of watching sports on TV. The Olympics and similar championships are great, as dozens of disciplines can be seen in just a short period.

However, not all kids are as enthusiastic about watching as they are about playing. Keep searching for signs of interest in a particular sport, and remember, it might take a while to find one that really seems to click with them. Take your child along to events in real life, and give them a taste of different sports. If they see a friend or family member participating, it might pique their interest. Speak with their PE teacher at parents evening to get an idea of what they’ve covered in class.

Think outside the box

If you’re worried that your child’s lifestyle is too sedentary, take things slowly. A youngster might be overwhelmed by being suddenly forced to abandon the Xbox and go to football classes, so look for something less traditional.

A child may have already decided that they hate sport, based on PE classes – so find something that they don’t recognise as a sport. Activities that seem more fun than sporty, such as trampolining, skateboarding or cycling, can be a good way to get started – and remember, childhood nutrition is an important part of the equation, too. With a bit of patience, you should see a happier, healthier child soon.

Parent-child bonding

Sports are a great way to get closer to your child. Take them for a kick-about, go with them to the swimming pool, or just help them practise at home. Remember, don’t be too harsh on them – and don’t panic if they don’t live up to your expectations. If you loved football as a child and see yourself raising the next Messi, but your little boy is more interested in gymnastics, don’t try to force him to change his mind. Celebrate your child’s interests and show them that you care, and hopefully their childhood hobby will become a lifelong passion.