Playing sports is a quintessential childhood pastime, and for good reason. While sports offer many benefits for childhood development, there are some children who just don’t want to play sports. They would much rather take dance lessons, act in a play, learn to paint, or play in a band, simply because those are the things they enjoy.
However, parents might be concerned that if their kids don’t play sports, they’re missing out on something important. What should parents do if their child would rather participate in the arts than play sports? Should they encourage their child to play sports anyway, to explore their artistic interests, or both?
Learning to Play Well with Others
Dr. Brannon Perilloux, a pediatrician with Associates in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in Baton Rouge, stresses the importance of children participating in activities that will teach them socialization. “The advantage of sports is it teaches you how to interact with other people,” he says. “I’m not too concerned about a child not being interested in sports, but I would be concerned if they’re not interested in doing any group activities. If a child doesn’t want to be a part of any group activity, it could be an indicator of a mental health problem. Or, it could be that they just haven’t found the right group activity.”
Dr. Perilloux encourages parents of young children—in kindergarten or first grade—to try to get them into sports. But he adds, “If they indicate an interest in something else—whether it’s a different sport or a different activity—then by all means try to also do that. As they get older, if they’re really involved in something else, then it’s okay if they want to drop the sport.”
Whether through sports or in the arts, it’s important to get kids involved in some sort of group activity where they can learn to socialize with others and work together. “Keep putting them in everything different that you can until you find something that they do like,” he encourages.
Finding Friends with Common Interests
Todd Henry, executive director of Playmakers of Baton Rouge, has spent a lifetime seeing how the theater can bring children together and bring out the best in them. “Every kid is different. I grew up in a very small town in Louisiana with a very dominating culture. Sports was the big thing, and I liked theater, but there wasn’t much of it where I was from, so I didn’t really have kids around me who were into the same things. Luckily, there were programs only an hour away that I could go to. My parents took me to Playmakers’ camps and other art camps. I made a lot of friends those summers, and a lot of us ended up going to college together at LSU. I’ve had a really long run with Playmakers.”
Now as executive director of Playmakers, Todd gets to watch a new generation bond over their shared love of theater. “When kids come to Playmakers, they make their own friends, they make lifelong friends, and they meet people who share their same interests. Just the other day, there was a heated debate about who should have won a Tony. And even with the kids who have been here a long time, if someone new comes in, they’re in that group, that little family, immediately.”
Teamwork—in Sports and in the Arts
“The arts can provide the same benefits to kids that sports can,” says Jody Hanet, executive director of Kids’ Orchestra in Baton Rouge. “We talk all the time about the benefits of being part of a team. We have the same thing in the arts. In music, our kids participate in ensembles, in small and large groups. That’s learning to have respect for teammates, working together, getting along with others, and taking turns—whether someone’s playing a solo or running towards a goal. Being a part of the larger group is very important.”
Molly Buchmann, co-artistic director of Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, has also seen how the arts can enrich children’s lives. “The things that we always tout sports for—like teamwork, learning to value everyone’s input, and learning to take pride in what they can contribute—all of these things can be learned in the arts,” she says. “To produce a play, a concert, or a dance event gives you all the opportunities that playing on a team does, and moreover, the things the kids are doing are more self-directed. They’re not just being told what to do but are being able to create.”
Producing a play also provides opportunities for children to learn important values, Todd points out. “[Sports and the arts] both teach you to have commitment and discipline to something. When you’re cast in a show, that’s a big commitment. You’re making a commitment to showing up every night. There’s teamwork, also. You’re part of something bigger than you. It’s about putting on the best show. It’s a very active thing too, involving lots of movement. In sports, you’re working together to win. You’re doing the same thing in theater.”
A Well-rounded Life
Whatever your child’s interests may be, you can find ways to encourage and support them. “Our creative community in Baton Rouge is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Buchmann. “This is football nation—and I’m a big LSU Tigers fan, too! But there’s lots of other stuff going on here too, and as our community grows, you’ll see even more. There are always places where you can find people who have similar interests, and you can develop those interests. You can take them to museums, concerts, dance shows, the theater. Not everyone is going to like those things, but for the ones who do, they can be life-changing.”
“Personally, I think there should be a balance,” says Hanet. “I think kids should play sports, and they should be involved in the arts of some kind. If we want to create well-rounded children, they need to have both. As parents, that’s how we can strive to contribute to their education and to them being individuals with broad minds. Some kids will gravitate toward just one thing, but I think you need to really open it up for them.”
Early exposure to the arts can also help children later as they develop their careers. Buchmann adds, “There have been many academic studies showing that the most highly valued employees are the most creative ones so encouraging creativity from a very early age can be not just a fun pastime but a way to move forward in the world. It can make them more employable, and it can make them happier. Even if it doesn’t lead to a career, it can lead to activities that people can enjoy and benefit from for their entire lives.” ■