When is it time to start my child in organized sports?

At YFM, it is a question that is posed to us frequently. Clearly, when tackling such a broad issue, one must understand that every child has unique physical attributes along with their respective personality. When monitored properly, organized sports can be a wonderful vehicle for kids to learn how to deal with adversity and can foster feelings of accomplishment. In order to help parents figure out when it’s best to sign up their kids for sports, YFM has produced a three-step guideline that can serve as an aid to help you get there. Please take some time with your spouse to examine each question below, you may have your answer, soon enough.


1 What’s the motive?
The first guideline is strictly for parents to answer. In the eyes of your child, the definition of success comes through you. It is your responsibility to guide, teach and protect. So ask yourself, why do I want my child to play organized sports? Studies have shown that at the beginning stages of organized sports, kids are concerned about three issues: having fun, learning something new and avoiding embarrassing moments. Are any of these topics included in your reasoning? There are many instances where kids are put into sports for the wrong reasons. Some parents view the time spent in organized sports as another form of daycare, routinely placing their child in a sport to free up some personal time. Others simply do it because they look around their respective neighborhoods and see that everyone else is signing up their kid, so why shouldn’t I? In addition, there are many parents who would like their kids to become familiar with a sport as soon as possible, hoping their child will be able to someday earn a full athletic scholarship to college. These types of motivations are both self-serving and unrealistic. If you want to get your kids out of your hair, it’s simple: get a babysitter. Everyone else is doing it has never been a good mantra to follow as a parent. While it is always great to receive feedback and advice from friends and neighbors, come to your own conclusion on why you would like your child to participate, based on your personal interactions and experiences.

Keep in mind that the majority of professional athletes were not pushed into sports by their parents. As a youngster growing up in Decatur, Alabama, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers wanted to try his hand at every organized sport available. His parents, Joan and Steve Rivers, were cautious and carefully considered each activity. “People are usually surprised when I tell them I didn’t actually play organized football until I was in the 7th grade, Rivers says. But I played baseball and basketball as soon as I was old enough.” The goal should be to always do what is best for your child, not what’s best for you.

2 What are your expectations?
Often times, a parent will look back on their athletic development and achievements and expect the same from their child. I was a superb tennis player and I expect my daughter to be one as well. Parents need to understand that it doesn’t always work that way. Placing unrealistic expectations on your child can end up being more harmful than helpful.

When it comes to sports, preadolescents rarely feel pressure or heavy expectations, unless an adult places it on them. According to a 2001 study on organized sports for children and preadolescents by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the effects of immaturity on sports participation can have a big impact. When the demands of a sport exceed a child’s cognitive and physical development, the child may develop feelings of failure and frustration, the study stated. Inappropriate or overzealous parental or adult influences can have negative effects. To expect your child to become a star overnight or to make the game winning shot or goal is unfair. It is up to parents to put the importance of games in perspective. Your expectations should be simple and manageable. Remember, the majority of youth coaches are not John Wooden. In many cases, they are volunteers with little or no child development experience. Their aim is to teach youth the basics of the game.

3 What you may want to consider.
Be sure to consider whether or not the sport is right for your child. Take your child’s physical attributes, personality and learning curve into consideration. Think about the attention span of your child, how will they do in a 60-minute practice session? One of the biggest factors should be physical makeup. The last thing you want to do is put them in harm’s way. Should you have a child that is small in stature when compared to other kids their age, think about what sports might be too physical. Sports like soccer and football can be extremely physical at times, with kids tackling or accidentally running into each other. The equipment in every respective sport should be considered also. Tackle football is usually the sport parents are most concerned about. It is natural to feel reluctant about a game that is physical at nearly every age. While growing up in the Orange County (CA) area, Washington Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan faced the same dilemma with his parents before they agreed to let him participate in Pee Wee football. I understand where parents are coming from because my parents had similar concerns, says the former University of Hawaii record-setter. But remember, there is great equipment in place to prevent injuries. Kids have the potential to get injured during nearly any physical activity.

Another aspect to consider is the basic skill requirement needed. Before even considering signing up your child for a particular sport, make sure that you have interacted with them prior. In order to avoid injury and potential embarrassment, there should be some level of teaching that has occurred prior to enrollment. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire a personal coach for your child. If you’re thinking about signing up your kid for basketball, try to simulate the activity at home or at a local park, by shooting baskets together or practicing dribbling. Be sure to help them understand the basic rules, such as how many players are required for each team. The last thing you want to do is send your kid out there completely unprepared. Failures will occur, that is a part of the learning curve, but signing up for a sport blindly may lead to negative experiences. A small level of preparation from a parent will surely lead to a more positive result and naturally more enjoyment from the child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that organized sports programs for preadolescents should complement, not replace, the regular physical activity that is part of free play, child-organized games, recreational sports, and physical education programs in schools. While organized sports offer plenty of benefits, those gains can be offset if your child is not ready to participate.

In the end, we hope that our three-step guideline opens up a family dialogue on whether or not you should enroll your child in an organized sport. We are confident by examining and discussing the issues carefully; parents will come to the right decision.

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