Sports are a big part of Mike Wilber’s life. He’s been a youth sports coach for more than 30 years, and today he coaches high school track, football, and swimming in Olean, NY. He’s also the father of four athletic kids.
He says he decided early on to get his kids involved in sports.
“Young children who are involved in sports have a healthier lifestyle integrated into their lives at an earlier age,” Wilber says.
And experts agree that sports can be good for kids, “not only for the obvious health benefits that 60 minutes of daily exercise gives you, but in social ways as well,” says Jennifer Shu, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Lessons in working with your teammates, sharing, and the importance of making and keeping commitments are valuable skills on and off the field or court.
But many kids aren’t born knowing that they want to play soccer or be on a cheerleading squad. So parents have to help them find an interest and figure out the sport that fits them the best -- without pushing them into an activity they dread. How can you find the balance? Here’s what to keep in mind.
Is my child ready for sports?
Around age 6 or 7, most kids have the physical and mental skills they need to start joining in organized sports. Shu says you can get your child moving as early as she shows interest, and start with easier activities that won’t be hard to master -- playing catch, kicking a ball, swinging a bat, or going for an easy swim. As she gets better with hand-eye coordination and physical activity, then you can introduce the idea of a team sport.
“You may want to try less-competitive team sports at first -- for example, recreational level rather than travel ball -- so novices don't get intimidated by more seasoned players,” says Shu, an Atlanta-area pediatrician.
It’s also a good idea to think about the physical traits that a sport requires before you sign her up for one. Is she tall enough? Strong enough? Talk to the coach to find out what you should look for.