Finding a Balance Between School and Sports

With school back in session, young athletes may find themselves trying to balance the demands of their sport with their academics. The challenge is – how to prioritize the two and what to do when things feel out of balance?

“School always comes first,” says Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, sport psychologist with the UW Health Sports Medicine program.

Dr. Mirgain points out that participating in sports provides tremendous benefits for kids. Research shows that young athletes tend to have better grades, go on to college, are less likely to drink or do drugs, just to name a few. But it’s important to keep perspective as well.

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How to Keep Sports Positive for Kids

Roughly three out of four families in the U.S. have at least one child who plays an organized sport, which is around 45 million kids. Yet, nearly 80 percent of those kids have stopped playing organized sports by the time they’re 15. Youth sports is a multi-billion-dollar industry these days, but participation in sports seems to be declining – by as much as 20 percent in some sports. While there is a lot of debate as to why any parent who has kids who participate probably has a few opinions of their own.

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Importance of the Off Season

Off-season training isn’t just for athletes with hopes of one day playing on college teams, or those competing at a high level. UW Health Sports Performance coach Alison Regal explains that most youth athletes can benefit – although how they approach it and the benefits they gain will be different depending on their age.

To figure out what’s best, it is helpful to understand the different developmental stages.

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Youth Sports and Athletic Development

As parents, we’ve likely experienced those moments of doubt – are we doing enough to help our kids succeed? And one area where that’s prevalent is youth sports. It’s a billion-dollar business in the U.S. Kids as young as 7 are in training camps, traveling the state (sometimes the country) on competitive teams, and parents often feel like if kids haven’t been training before the age of 9, there’s no point to trying a new sport because they’ll be too far behind.

But there’s another well-known stat – by the age of 13, approximately 70% of kids in the U.S. stop playing organized sports because it’s no longer fun.

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How Much Activity is Too Much?

You know your family’s schedules are busy – sports, school, after-school, music lessons, play dates. Sometimes it can feel as though quality family time involves driving between activities. And what about those kids who enjoy being active – playing soccer, hockey and lacrosse? Or maybe it’s swimming, tennis and baseball? How much is too much?

Dave Knight, manager of UW Health’s Sports Performance Program, offers a relatively simple formula based on a child’s age and grade.

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