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
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.
There are sports programs designed for preschoolers, but 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.
How Can We Choose 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 some 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
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.
What if Kids Want to Quit?
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
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.