You’re gung ho to get your little one out playing sports this year, but how do you transfer that enthusiasm to them? You already know that enrolling your children in team sports will teach them about teamwork, enable them to forge friendships, and help boost their confidence and coordination while engaging them in physical exercise. But what sports should you choose, and how do you get them pumped up for their first day on the field? We spoke with four coaches of children’s sports teams to get expert opinions (seven, in fact!) that will help you get your little ones psyched for the spring season.

Blaine Rethmeier, Lead Sports Instructor, Southwest Community Center, Portland

1. Soccer is the best sport for first-timers. All of the coaches we spoke with unanimously agreed, and Coach Rethmeier offers, “For preschool age toddlers (3-5 years) I recommend soccer. The game is physically simple and uses the legs and feet, where kids develop coordination first (from walking and running). Sports such as basketball and baseball require physical development of arms, hands and upper body.”

2. Having fun with friends is the best approach for a parent. “The number one reason kids play sports is for fun. Reason number two is because their friends are playing. I recommend exposing youngsters to age appropriate sports and activities early. Developmentally, preschoolers are about the “me” and not the “we” in team sports.

Jeremy Williams, Coach/Dad Mt. Tam Adventure Camps, Marin

3.  Expose them to different sports, and listen for which one resonates most with them. “Kids gravitate towards their own sport through watching, listening and attending live events.  I often take my son to a a professional game as well as little league game. He gets to see and hear kids playing, and the game is smaller and slower for him to understand and learn. Have your child walk up to the dugout or bench and listen to the kids communicate. Also, my dad bought me sports posters and put them on my wall, and I was hooked. A baseball or a hat can trigger a passion for sports as well.”

4. Make sure that you enroll your child in no more than one or two sports and that your child can attend all the games and practices. Teach your child that he must start and finish the program. Expose your child to the sports that work for your schedule as well. There is nothing worse for a kid than to get started in a sport only to have it taken away due to scheduling conflicts.

Coach Jaime Parady and Coach Sarah Vigil, Soccer Kids, Marin, San Francisco, Novato, and San Mateo

5.  The primary focus at a young age should be on having fun, not on games that cause a child to “lose” or sit out. Kids should play games without waiting in line, so every child can be involved at all times. Games with constant celebrating and cheering for actions from every team, not just their team.

6.  After you watch your kid play, acknowledge the feelings your child is having no matter what they are, making sure your child understands that you hear and understand them. “Explore what your child did on the field, don’t focus on what they did not do or what went wrong. Use “I notice” statements, like “I noticed you blocked the red team when they were trying to score a goal” or “I notice you helped your teammate kick the ball away from your goal.” Another way to re-enforce skills is to repeat the action you want, not the action you don’t want. Instead of saying “no hands” say “kick and run” or “just use your feet” when giving instruction during the activity.

7. Help your kids understand that they won’t “score” every time they try. The final result (scoring a goal) is not the only indicator for success. “Doing the other things that even give you a chance at “scoring” are just as, if not more, important. Remember that each child is motivated differently. Some will be drawn more toward individual sports such as swimming, tennis, or gymnastics. The pressures of under-performing and letting the team down can weigh on a child and push them away from team sports. It is imperative that an atmosphere of teamwork and good sportsmanship outweigh that of winning and scoring for the youth athlete.”

—Beth Shea