Mom’s advice on when kids should start a sport, how serious they should get and what to expect when your kid or kids join an organized sport

Everybody is fitness-crazy these days! With health-conscious messages everywhere, kids really do need to get about an hour a day, at minimum, of physical activity outside the normal walking and moving about during the day. The long-term use of electronic and digital devices by younger and younger children for extended daily hours has taken away hours of active play, unless they have an active and engaged before-and-after school sitter. Are your kids in sports yet? If not, they will likely ask to join something sooner than later. Let’s look at the ins and outs of sports and kids.

How Young is Too Young?

Should kids not yet in school participate in organized sports or lessons? That depends upon your child and your family. If you’re active and your kids show interest, try it out. If your kid really says they don’t want to try it, don’t force it. In our family, the kids participate in an annual road race each summer, starting at one-half mile for any kids up to age 7, one mile for ages 8-12, a 1.75 mi or 5.5 mile course for teens and adults by age class. They have all started swim lessons at age three. More sports are offered at the elementary level today than when I was a kid, so we take advantage of t-ball or flag football starting around age five. My kids have taken dance and gymnastics during kindergarten and elementary years. If you can’t commit to bring your child to practice or events consistently or your child doesn’t seem interested, wait a season, or a year, and offer again, or something different. Cities and towns often offer programs through their recreation departments, so check with your local municipality for offerings.

Rec Team or Competitive League?

Most sports tend to start out non-competitive with the youngest ones, obviously to show them the rules and teach them how to play, but they almost always tend to lead to competition. Even our local swim lessons hold an annual race in which the two town beaches compete for a huge trophy. Racers range from three years to parents of the swimmers (yes, there are classes)! Seriously, how do you know if your kid is ready for competition? More than age, this depends on development. If your child is still learning the sport, its rules or how to be a supportive team player, it might be best to wait. If your child is out there killing it, so to speak, he or she may be ready to move up. For those in the middle, talk to your child to assess if he or she is ready to face competition, and inevitably, losing. Losing happens and we all need to learn to deal with it, but if your child is more sensitive than not, staying in a recreation club or a more individual sport, like martial arts, swimming or running, might be a great fit. Not everyone needs to win trophies or ribbons to be a winner. What is important is to get moving and have fun while you do it.

What to Expect?

Expect to be asked to volunteer, and pass a criminal background check to work with other people’s kids. Expect to be a taxi to this practice and that game. Expect to make lots of mom-or-dad-with-kids-on-the-team friends; your kids will make friends too! Expect your kid to be cranky about going to practice sometimes. Unless he or she is sick, insist they attend. Expect to start a conversation with even your youngest kids about being a good sport, or a sore loser, and about being a responsible member of a team. Expect to laugh when your kids are adorable, cry when they’re disappointed or hurt, and just about burst with pride when catch the ball or cross the finish line. You might even expect to be an advocate for your child but also to teach your child to be an advocate for him or herself.

Sports is not all about winners and losers. Just like kindergarten, sports can teach us much about life. Kindergarten teaches kids the basic rules of reading, writing, arithmetic, plus how to play nicely with others and listen to the teachers. Sports teaches us the basics of staying physically fit for life by doing something fun, helps make and renew lifelong friendships, and reinforces following the rules so we get to the finish line, sometimes even first. Sports aren’t just for kids, either. Grown-ups can enjoy recreational and competitive sports too, so find a sport you love and go play!

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