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Jim MacDonald (Pediatric Sports Medicine Doctor): Kids Taught Him Importance of Free Play Outside Organized Sports

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Editors Note: This blog was part of a special series on dads which originally ran in 2012. Because it is timeless we are sharing it again.

Being the father of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At MomsTEAM we think sports dads deserve to be honored, not just on the third Sunday in June, but for an entire month. So we have designated June as National Sports Dads Month and invited some veteran sports dads to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions (the same ones we asked sports moms in May). We will post a new blog for every day of June, which we hope you will find interesting, empowering, and informative, and thJim MacDonald with daughterat you will share them with your family and friends. 

Today we hear from pediatric sports medicine physician Jim MacDonald:

MomsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?

MacDonald:  I was an athlete and played Little League Baseball, Catholic League Basketball and Pop Warner Football until high school, when my small size dictated a change of sports. I found I was especially good at running, and went on to have a solid career as a miler and two miler in both high school and at Harvard University.

MomsTEAM: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a sports dad?

MacDonald: The most rewarding aspect of being a sports dad is seeing my children take joy in physical activity.

MomsTEAM: What lesson has your sports active child taught you?

MacDonald: My son especially has taught me dedication. He is intrinsically motivated, in a way I do not think I was at his age. His discipline for an eight year old is off the charts. Secondly, both my children have taught me about balance. They actually would far prefer to be exploring by the shore of a lake or climbing a tree, playing backyard tackle football, or wrestling in the front yard than they would playing organized sports. Free play in kids is something that absolutely should be encouraged along with organized sports.

MomsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?

MacDonald: The most important lessons they are learning are discipline, fair play, sportsmanship, team work and respect for coaches and referees. 

MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?

MacDonald:  If I could flip a switch I would advocate for a return to an ethic of respect that was present in the sports of my youth and that is playing second fiddle to competition in modern American youth sports. That is, respect for your teammates, your opponents, your coaches, the referees; respect for the rules of the game. Sportsmanship and fun should be emphasized well before competition in youth sports.

MomsTEAM: Brag a little: what have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.

MacDonald: As a doctor specializing in pediatric sports medicine, I help kids get back to their sports every day daily and over the course of my career have helped thousands. I am also taking public health courses at Ohio State (I am earning a mid-career MPH) and plan to address the barriers to physical activity that are contributing to the epidemic high levels of obesity in kids.

Jim MacDonald is a physician specializing in pediatric sports medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Ohio State University's School of Medicine. He earned his M.D. from Harvard and did his pediatric sports medicine training at Children's Hospital, Boston. He was previously Team Physician at the University of California, Santa Cruz before coming to Columbus.  Jim is the married father of eight year old twins, one boy and one girl.  His son enjoys all sports; his daughter likes dance, karate and rugby.