Participating in team sports can help kids develop physically, mentally and socially, but the experience also can be negative if the timing is not right for each child, especially young children.
“To avoid frustration, disappointment and even injury, parents should wait to enroll kids into sports until they are ready,” says Dr. James Sedlis, a sports medicine physician in Birmingham, Alabama.
Today, the average age for joining a team is 6½, compared with 12 a generation ago. Yet age is just one factor to consider. A child should have mastered some basic skills such as running, jumping and throwing, in addition to specific skills needed for the sport—for instance, the ability to ice skate to play ice hockey.
Beyond physical abilities are emotional maturity and mental readiness. “You must evaluate the child’s behavioral readiness by considering factors such as maturity level, self-control, attention span, understanding of the sport’s strategies and demonstration of the ability to successfully work in groups,” Sedlis says.
If your child isn’t ready for a competitive team, encourage him to play a favorite sport in less structured situations. “Start with practicing with your child at home, giving your child the opportunity to build rudimentary skills in a safe environment,” Sedlis says. Age-appropriate classes, camps and community programs are other options.
Youth baseball, soccer and football are popular team sports, but Sedlis suggests swimming, gymnastics or skating may be better starting points to develop agility, balance, endurance and coordination.