The toddler years are a time of massive physical and social development for kids - they're picking up more fine motor skills each and every day. Able to do more complex physical tasks - and learning more about themselves and how they can fit in with other individuals. Kids who play sports get a natural opportunity for both forms of growth! Learning to share and concentrating on one activity are both relevant concepts to learn in your toddler years. But how young is too young to start playing sports? Are there some sports better for toddlers than others? And how can you help your kid choose which sport they want to participate in? If they decide to join a team, will you be laidback about competitiveness - or will you push them to practice until they join the traveling team.
When should they start playing?
For kids from 18 months to 3 years, casual non-structured play activities are probably the best type of sports to get them involved. Once they get closer to 3 and up, they can start to really learn team activities. But from walking-age and up, things like toddler gym classes or even just story and music time at the library will help your kid learn more coordination. Swimming is another great solo sport - but is incredibly fun with parents and baby! Don't discount the safety bonus of having every kid able to swim.
Once they hit that three-year mark, you can start choosing which casual sports they want to be involved in - things like basketball, gymnastics, dance, basketball. These sports have a few things in common. First, all these sports are indoors - kids are less likely to get distracted. Second: now isn't the time to learn how to play perfectly, or even to start focusing on strategy - it's about encouraging physical activity and major motor function.
Team sports are great, but they come with the expectation that your kids are going to show up and be there for the rest of their team. If that seems like a big commitment, encourage them to try a solo sport to start.
Once kids are a little bit older, say, 5-8 years old, you can get them involved in a more competitive sport, teaching them the rules of the game. You can impart how to be a good winner and a graceful loser; these kids tend to be on a different emotional maturity than the average 3 or 4-year-old.
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Which sport should they play?
At this point, any sport is fair game - from soccer to rugby - solo or team, really amazing social skills to learn from drills and practice. I would encourage you: if your kid seems to be getting burnt out from multiple weekly practices or endless competitive events, feel free to take a step back. Consider that the team sports might be a bit more upset if they can't count on your little one for the season, so better to start small and add extra committed hours as you go.
What if they want to quit?
But what happens if your kid decides to quit the sport altogether? How can you discern the best time to encourage them to stick with it or the best time to walk away from the game?
I consider my child's level of enthusiasm. If they really loved the game, and then suddenly really hated it - I'd consider the other possible reasons they might have developed a distaste. Has someone bullied them or shaken their confidence? Can you turn this disenchantment into a learning opportunity on how to have some stick-with-it-ness? After all, that's a vital social lesson you'd definitely learn playing sports!
No matter which toddler your child chooses, remember this: early athletes should be having fun! The beginning of a lifetime love of sports and recreation starts with play - not with winning. And if they decide they're not interested in keeping up with the competition itself, your toddler or young kid might change their mind. Use your best judgment in deciding if you ought to allow them to quit. Don't forget you can always say, "Let's try again next season."
Future Olympians in the making
Whether you'd like your kid to play casually or to win a gold medal, there's no real benefit to starting a sports-training track earlier than six or seven years old. While you might point to the Williams sisters starting tennis at three, or Tiger Woods putting at the tender age of two - realize that the main goal of early sports is to let kids enjoy themselves! "Early enrollment...sometimes doesn't make your child a better athlete, it actually hinders them in the full athletic abilities they might have," says pediatrician Dr. Bob Adler. Serious sports training should only begin when the child is emotionally capable of managing the demands of a busy sports training regiment. Remember that saying, "Food before one is just for fun?" Well, sports before six are just for kicks!
When did you start playing your favorite sport? Did your parents let you quit sports teams when you stopped enjoying them or did you stick with it? How would you help your own kid if they wanted to start a sport? Share your perspective on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #SportsForKids.