Organized sports can help kids grow in many ways. From soccer to fencing, sports offer chances for kids to:
learn and master skills
work with their peers and coaches
challenge themselves in a safe environment
learn the value of practice and the challenge of competition
And on top of all that, sports provide fun opportunities for kids to be active.
But before signing your kids up for sports, consider each child's age, personality, and abilities to help make sure that being involved in sports is a positive experience for everyone.
When Should Kids Start Playing Sports?
As you think about signing kids up for organized sports, consider how emotionally and physically ready they are to participate. If they're too young or not ready, it will be frustrating for everyone, and can turn kids off from sports for good.
Although there are sports programs designed for preschoolers, it's not until about age 6 or 7 that most kids develop the physical skills and attention span that most sports need. Preschoolers can throw and run, but it usually takes some time before they can coordinate the two skills. And it may not be until kindergarten or first grade before kids understand the rules of the game.
That doesn't mean kids can't play sports when they're younger. Sports can be fun for toddlers and kindergartners, but these should be less about competition and more about learning skills and having fun while being active. So even if young kids inadvertently score a goal for the other team or spend the entire game chasing butterflies, as long as they're enjoying it, that's OK.
If you do decide to sign your 5-year-old up for a team, be sure to choose a league that emphasizes fun and basic skills.
Choosing the Right Sport
When choosing a sport, consider your child's unique temperament. Some kids are naturally inclined toward team sports, while others may feel more comfortable in activities where the focus is on individual efforts. There's something for everyone — from soccer and baseball for team-oriented kids, to tennis, fencing, karate, dancing, and swimming for kids who'd rather go solo.
Don't be surprised if it takes a few tries — or a few seasons — to find the sport that's right for your child. It often takes time for kids to figure out which activities they enjoy.
Some kids may just not be interested in team sports, but they can still keep fit by engaging in other activities that don't emphasize competition. No matter what they choose, kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
Before Signing Up
Kids should have a physical examination before beginning any sports or fitness program. Those with certain medical conditions, vision or hearing problems, or other disorders may have difficulty playing some sports. Rarely, a doctor may find an undiagnosed condition that can affect participation.
Although you should share your interests with your kids, it's never a good idea to force them into an activity just because you once enjoyed it. And once they choose a sport, be sure to head out to the field, gym, or pool to cheer them on.
When kids show an interest in sports, it's important to think about how practices and games might affect their day-to-day life — and yours:
How will it affect how much time your child has for things like homework, other activities, and time with friends and family? You may want to get the schedule of practices and games and map out a typical week on a calendar with your child.
It's important for kids to have downtime to rest, think creatively, and play freely when they're not engaged in something else. This can help give them the energy they need for their activities.
How will the sport affect the rest of the family's plans? Many teams only practice and play games during the weekend, which can be a problem if your family likes weekend getaways.
If you have more than one child playing sports, how will you coordinate transportation to practices and games?
How involved do you want to be in the sport, and how involved does your child want you to be? Sports leagues usually look for parents to volunteer with everything from coaching to team snacks and transportation. Being involved — either as a coach or in another role — can be a great way to spend time with your kids and show them you're interested in what they do.
However kids feel when they enroll for a season of sports, there may come a time when they want to quit. If your child comes to you with this plea, try to find the reason behind it. It might have to do with something small and fixable, like a bad-fitting uniform, or it may be a bigger issue, like how comfortable your child feels with the coach or the kids on the team. It could also be that your child just doesn't enjoy the sport.
Is it OK to let kids quit? If your child is on a team that depends on his or her participation, you may want to explain the importance of sticking it out for the season. If that's not the case, then think about what you want your child to get out of the experience, and how quitting would affect that.
When kids are overscheduled or unhappy, quitting may be the right thing. But it's still important for all kids to be physically active every day, even if they're no longer playing an organized sport.
These are general guidelines to keep in mind. Kids mature at their own pace and develop their unique skills at different times, so consider your child's emotional and physical maturity before you commit to a season of sports. There's no point in forcing sports on kids of if they're not having fun.