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, and challenge themselves in a safe environment. They learn the value of practice and the challenge of competition. And on top of all that, sports provide natural and fun opportunities for kids to get regular exercise.
But before signing kids up for sports, parents should consider a child's personality and developmental level to help ensure that being involved in sports is a positive experience for everyone.
As you think about signing kids up for sports, consider how emotionally and physically ready they are to participate. Signing up too early can end up being 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 appropriate physical skills or the attention span needed to listen to directions and grasp the rules of the game. While preschoolers can throw and run, it usually takes some time before they can coordinate the two skills. And it usually isn't until kindergarten or first grade that kids grasp concepts like "taking turns" that are crucial to many sports.
That doesn't mean kids can't play sports when they're younger. Sports can be fun for toddlers and kindergartners, but they should be less about competition and more about having fun opportunities to be 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.
If kids show an interest in a sport, try to let them do it. You may be worried that your child will get hurt, particularly in a contact sport like football, but as long as the coach requires players to use the correct safety gear, your doctor OK's it, and your child is matched up with other kids of the same size and ability, go ahead. Even if the sport doesn't turn out to be a good fit, your child will learn much from the experience.
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 you sign up for a season of sports, think about how practices and games are going to affect the day-to-day life of your child and the rest of the family:
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 may 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.
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 excelled in it. And once they choose a sport, be sure to head out to the field, gym, or pool to cheer them on.
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.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2012
|Sport Information Resource Center This site helps people find sports resources on the Web.|
|Kids Sports Network This organization promotes quality nonschool sports and fitness for children between the ages of 3 and 19 through coaches, education, special events and activities, public awareness, and regular networking with youth sports organizations and agencies.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|Connecting With Your Coach Get the most out of your chosen sport by building a strong relationship with your coach.|
|Taking the Pressure Off Sports Competition Sometimes sports competition can make kids feel pressure. If it's too much, a kid might not have as much fun as before. Find out what to do if this happens to you.|
|Handling Sports Pressure and Competition Winning is all that matters when you play sports, right? Not when that means you can't even enjoy the game. Read about how to handle sports pressure and competition.|
|Feeding Your Child Athlete All kids need to eat balanced meals and have a healthy diet. But should that balance change for kids who play on a sports team or work out?|
|Five Ways to Avoid Sports Injuries Sports injuries often can be prevented. Find out how in this article for kids.|
|Sports Physicals If you play team sports, you may have had a sports physical. A sports physical is a visit to the doctor to make sure you're in good enough shape to play the sport you want to play.|
|Sports Physicals Just as professional sports stars need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do teenage athletes. You can give yourself the same edge as the pros by making sure you have your sports physical.|
|What If I Don't Like Sports? Sports can be challenging when you're new to them, but they also can be really fun. Take a second look at sports - and learn other ways to be active - in this article for kids.|
|Kids Talk About: Coaches Coaches are key people for kids who play sports. Find out what kids have learned from their coaches.|
|Fitness for Kids Who Don't Like Sports Some kids aren't natural athletes and they may say they just don't like sports. What then?|
|5 Reasons for Girls to Play Sports Playing organized sports can help girls do better off the field as well as on. Find out how.|
|Sports and Exercise Safety Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how.|
|Should Your Preschooler Play Sports? Team sports can be too complicated for the average preschooler. Here are some fun and easy ways to keep them active.|
|Preventing Children's Sports Injuries Participation in sports can teach kids sportsmanship and discipline. But sports also carry the potential for injury. Here's how to protect your kids.|
|Sportsmanship One of the most important goals of kids' sports is helping children develop a sense of good sportsmanship. Here's how to set a good example for your kids.|
|5 Reasons Girls Should Play Sports Lots of girls love sports. Here are 5 more reasons to keep on loving them!|
|5 Ways to Prepare for Your Sports Season How can you get ready to play your best season ever? Read these tips for teen athletes.|
|Choosing the Right Sport for You If you're having trouble choosing a sport, this article can help!|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.