We’ve likely seen the children in leagues that we can tell don’t want to be there. They look bored or irritated, they aren’t receptive to coaching and their playing is usually lackluster. These are all signs of a child who doesn’t want to play a sport, but their parents are forcing them for whatever reason.

Parents run into this problem on their home turf – they have a child, they want to put them into a sport, but the child isn’t receptive.

There are children who just aren’t interested in sports, but these others treat sports like vegetables on their dinner plate – they haven’t tried them, but their minds are already made up that they aren’t eating them. They’d rather stay at home texting or they don’t like spending time outside.

It’s important to never try too hard to force a child to play sports. Parents do have the power to make children try something, but it’s never a good idea to force them to play sports past the initial trial period. This doesn’t help the child flourish like they should while playing. When a child doesn’t want to play, they truly won’t. They may be on the field, running around like they should be, but this is out of obligation and they won’t ever play at the level they should, or could be.

All hope isn’t lost, though. There are some ways you can try and convince a child to give sports a try. Think about our dinner plate analogy.

Incentivize Them

Hold on. We do not believe in buying gifts and promising the world in order to get them playing sports. Think of a way to incentivize them that both promotes the benefits of sports and doesn’t bribe them. Talk about the friends they’ll make when they play sports, and the fun they’ll have during the after-game luncheons. Children like to be included, so up-sell the idea of a team, seeing their friends outside of school and having mom and dad come to watch. Promising to coach might also be something that a child will be proud of, and something you’ll enjoy doing as a family.

Teach Responsibility

When they refuse to play, make sure they understand – when they’re old enough – that you are making a financial and schedule commitment to them, by allowing them to play a sport. Changing their mind without a valid reason is unfair to you on both levels, (and sometimes also unfair to siblings). Being part of a team is also a commitment to a team, whether it is a sports team, a theater troupe or a school project. Letting your child “off the hook” without explaining the consequences to everyone involved is doing them a disservice. 

Take Them to Games

Sometimes a child doesn’t want to play sports because they don’t understand what it’s like to be interested in them. In order to promote this, start trying to get them interested in sports. Don’t just show them sports on television. Give them the full experience of going to the game. Reiterate that this is what it feels like to be in the audience, and if they’re a player they’ll get to hear the noise of the crowd and feel the emotion of being supported and cheered on by an audience.

Taking a child to sports games also gives you time to bond in a very intimate way. Many parents bring their children in order to bond like this, and you should get to experience this as well. It might also spur some quick “home games” – even in the living room. Showing your child that you are enjoying the game, and enjoying playing with them, will give them a new, lasting connection to their parents.

Give Them Variety

One reason a child isn’t invested in a sport is because it isn’t the sport for them. If you come from a football family, don’t be disappointed when your child doesn’t immediately take to the sport themselves. Show them that there’s more than one sport out there, and they can pick and choose which they like.

After all, any sport can be beneficial to a child, no matter which one they might fall in love with.