Many families struggle with the question of when to sign children up for organized sports leagues. A simple Google search provides many examples of babies learning to swim and toddlers swinging golf clubs…
It could be that we are utterly fascinated by the idea of an athletic child phenom. Making the U.S. Olympic team as a teenager… Receiving a full athletic scholarship to college… Maybe even going pro! Some parents quietly hope their child will be one of the select few super-athletes…
Youth sports enterprises and coaches know all too well the secret hopes of these parents. In response, we see soccer clubs taking children as young as two years old… Toddlers taking gymnastics lessons… Even going so far as to hire a private instructor as soon as a child is able to pick up a ball.
Not every child will become the super-athlete, but everyone wants their child to have a good time and develop basic physical skills. Pretty much all parents want to provide their children with the best opportunities—early and often.
So, what’s the sweet spot of just the right amount of involvement? Wait too long, and your child may not develop the skills and techniques of the ones who started earlier… Start too soon, and run up against the burnout syndrome happening all around America.
A recent survey indicated that almost 70% of children stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. The survey also concluded that 38% of children begin playing sports between the ages of seven and nine. Another 29% started sports before age seven. The study found a variety of reasons for the drop-out rates, from not being disciplined or corrected for poor performance to feeling pressure from parents and peers alike.
One thing is for sure… children need to be active. Running around after a ball, learning how to swim or swinging a bat are all great forms of exercise. There is no right or wrong decision for parents on when to start with organized sports. However, there are some general ideas that parents and caregivers should keep in mind…
Know Your Child When It Comes To Organized Sports
Some children may be physically ready for organized sports, while others may not. But it’s not only the physical aspect. Organized sports also require concentration, an ability to follow instructions, teamwork (in some instances), communication and cooperation. There are social, psychological and cognitive skills which are also necessary. A child who is not both physically and socially ready may not benefit from early sports participation.
The Key Is Exercise
Each day, it is recommended that toddlers receive:
- 30 minutes of adult-led (structured) activity
- At least 60 minutes of free play (unstructured)
It is also recommended that they not be inactive for more than one hour (except when sleeping).
It is imperative that children develop healthy lifestyle skills. Being active does not have to include being on a sports team. In fact, at Oak Village Academy, we exceed all of the recommended daily exercise suggestions. Our outdoor learning environment gives us plenty of opportunities to be active. After all, that’s the important factor: that children are active.
Focus On Play, Not Pay In Organized Sports
Any early sports program should focus on being active, teaching basic skills, sportsmanship and having FUN! Lessons of teamwork and cooperation are positive experiences that will have a lasting impression on how children view athletics. According to Early Childhood Education research, any introduction to a sport should not include being exposed to fierce competition and “winning at all costs.” Instead, early participation in sports should focus on building self-esteem and having a positive interaction with athletics and their peers. As children mature, competition can become part of the program.
Exposure To Many Sports
An important consideration is whether children should become specialized early on. Oftentimes we hear stories of the baseball player who never played anything else. This may not be the best strategy.
First, children should be exposed to many different types of physical activity. Swimming, running, jumping, throwing and kicking… The diversity in sports helps develop all the muscle groups and prevents overuse or under-development. Secondly, just because you enjoyed ice hockey doesn’t mean your child will be scoring goals for the Carolina Hurricanes. The key is to introduce children to a variety of sports, especially early on. This way, they will ultimately be able to decide what they enjoy.
Another reason for playing multiple sports is the prevention of injury. The data is relatively new, but there is a suggestion that children who play several sports run a lower risk at developing injuries later in life.
We All Have To Rest
One final note is that organized sports requires a time commitment from busy parents. There are evening and weekend games or practices, with driving time to consider as well. You might have multiple children involved in different sports. This can be time-consuming and even tiresome. Physical activity should be fun for your child—without exhausting the entire family.
When it comes to sports and your child, do what’s best for you and your family… In the end, as the parent, the ball’s in your court.
Explore The Oak Village Academy™ Difference
At Oak Village Academy™ preschool in Cary, NC we learn the natural way by encouraging indoor and outdoor learning environments with low child to teacher ratios. Contact us to learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 377-1802