Joining clubs and teams is not only a vital part of the high school experience for many teenagers, it also offers lifelong benefits. Numerous studies have shown that extracurricular activities are good for kids: Teens who join clubs and teams are less likely to smoke or drop out of school and more likely to develop social and leadership skills that they carry into the future. Plus, rehearsing for the school play or playing soccer cuts down on their screen time without parents having to nag about it. And at most schools, there’s usually something for everyone.
Finding the Right Fit
“Evan was very involved in things in the younger grades,” says Calgary mom Kiki Bouktsis of her 14-year-old son. “But as the other kids started surpassing him in size, he lost interest in trying out where he might not have a shot at making the team.” As Evan approaches Grade 10, however, Bouktsis says he’s found a place where his size works to his advantage: climbing. “And his new school has a climbing club. He’s really looking forward to it.”
When looking at new actvities, Darrell Dempster, the executive director of the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation, advises teens to consider their strengths, likes and peer group, or look for sports that aren’t as competitive in some cases. “Many schools have ‘no cut’ policies, at least for some sports,” says Dempster. “And most sports or clubs will welcome new players.” My own daughters have found that joining clubs like yearbook or chess, or helping with one-time events like the school play and multicultural night are good non-competitive options. “On a team, you’re expected to have certain skills or experience already,” says Amanda, 16. “In a club, you’re not, and you can learn something brand new.”
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Compared to private organizations, high school activities can also offer opportunities to teens who are facing economic barriers or overloaded calendars. “School clubs aren’t taking up the nights and weekends, since things happen at lunch periods or before or after school,” says Bouktsis. “Evan doesn’t want to be out every night, running all over town. And neither do I.” While some schools may have fees for playing in tournaments or students may have to provide their own equipment or materials for the chosen activity, it’s pennies compared to private instruction.
Teams and clubs are also another tool in the ongoing battle against bullying. Robert Adlam teaches high school math in Windsor, Ont., and has coached girls’ softball, tennis and cross-country, as well as supervised the math club. “In my experience as a teacher,” says Adlam, “the kids who are bullying are the kids who don’t get themselves involved. They have little direction or connection to a coach or teacher who can help guide them toward positive outlets.” For kids who are being bullied, belonging to something could give them a supportive circle of classmates who accept them and treat them well. “And they’ll talk to a coach or teacher about what’s going on, so we can do something about it,” says Adlam.
Managing It All
Concerned about your teen’s ability to balance schoolwork, clubs and after-school practice? Monitor his progress by maintaining contact with coaches and teachers, says Dempster. “All schools have established criteria for taking part in extracurricular activities,” he says. Academic requirements have the added benefit of motivating students. “They work harder so they can take part.”
“Kids who join want to be at school,” says Adlam. “If your teen is saying school’s no fun, help him find something—just one fun thing.” Encourage teens to try a sport with a shorter season, or a club that their friend has joined. “Pick something, and don’t be afraid to try something new,” says Adlam. “I’m happy to coach kids who have never even picked up a baseball glove before.”