Results of the study are scheduled to be published in the September issue of The Sports Psychologist.
The benefits of a positive coaching environment can be seen both on and off the field, Cote said. Previous research has linked sports participation with increased grades and college enrollment.
"There are really three difference qualities of an activity that are needed to influence personal development: effort, concentration and enjoyment," explained Cote. "If you think about watching TV, there's enjoyment, but not a lot of effort or concentration, so it's probably not the best activity for personal development. But, when you look at sports, children who are giving a lot of effort and concentration, also usually enjoy it."
He said that when kids enjoy their sport, they'll stay motivated. And parents and kids alike should ignore pressure to start specializing in a sport at a young age.
"Kids that are the best at 12 or 13, if they start playing year-round may end up dropping out," Cote said. "A child can be very skilled, but if they lose their motivation, it doesn't matter how skilled they are. It's better to go slow at a young age, gradually increasing the amount of practice until age 14 or 15. It's all about balance."
And while parents may secretly harbor dreams of college scholarships or even a pro career, kids are mostly interested in having fun, said pediatric sports medicine specialist, Dr. Eric Small, from Mount Kisco, N.Y.
And having fun, of course, means making sure that all kids get ample chances to kick, throw and run, rather than just letting the best performers get most of the playing time.
"Most kids will say winning is
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