The lessons your kids learn in their formative years will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Participating in youth sports is a great way to learn lessons like teamwork, cooperation, communication, and personal responsibility.
But of course, all parents have questions. Is my child ready for youth sports participation? What sports are suitable for them? At what age do they develop the emotional and physical skills necessary to compete as part of a team?
Here’s a handy guide to youth sports participation to help you in making the best decisions for your child's future in sports.
Is My Child Ready For Sports?
Before you sign them up for any sport, it's crucial to understand your child's traits and physical limitations. Check with their pediatrician and get the okay to enroll your child in a youth sports program. A doctor's blessing is especially essential for contact sports like football and hockey.
Once the doctor signs off, you should decide which sports are best for your athlete? Some sports like baseball, football, and hockey require more complex motor skills. Children under nine may not yet have those skills and should focus more on individual sports and development before becoming part of a team.
Be sure to consider their personal interests. You as parents can nudge your child towards a sport you think best suits them, but it's still up to your kids whether they like it or not. What sports do they watch on TV? Who do they pretend to be when playing in the backyard? Tom Brady? Mike Trout? LeBron James?
You should also encourage your kids try lots of different sports before they are in high school. They should even try some sports that they aren't immediately drawn to. By experiencing several different sports they'll be able to find their niche and develop skills that translate to other physical activities.
Are Individual Sports Right for My Kid?
When considering youth sports participation, one of the first questions to ask is what kind of sport: individual or team? Individual sports are, as the name implies, played solo. Think tennis, wrestling, cross country, and swimming, for example. To take that definition a step further, athletes participating in individual sports progress at their own pace, instead of relying on the skills of their teammates to develop.
There are dozens of individual sports options to choose from, but most center around a handful of core traits and skills. At the forefront is cardiovascular fitness. Most individual sports require long stretches of activity, thus requiring high levels of endurance. Wrestling, swimming, and skating are all examples of individual sports with high endurance demands.
Individual sports don't have to be competitive either. Running, cycling, archery, and equestrian are all examples of individual sports. Your child only has to compete against themselves.
Running is as easy as buying a decent pair of running shoes and jogging out the front door. Many communities also have running programs for kids and you can always find regional 5K or 10K races to participate in.
Running helps your children set and meet personal goals, especially at a young age. If they later show interest in team sports, running and endurance are two fundamentals that will help them wherever they go.
Track and field or cross country at a young age can help develop skills that translate to almost any other sport.
Gymnastics is an accessible activity for all ages. It is considered a sport of skill rather than a display of strength, speed, and endurance. Gymnastics covers a broad pool of different activities, so you shouldn't have difficulty finding one suitable for your child. Gymnastics is about what you can do with your body, rather than scoring goals or baskets. The sport promotes creativity rather than rigid game plans and bolsters personal goal-setting and exercise.
Wrestling is a popular individual sport with the season typically taking place in the Fall and Winter. Wrestling requires consistent training and years of skill development to perform at a high level in high school or college.
Coaches often point to the character building lessons that can be learned at a young age through wrestling. Wrestling also requires elite physical fitness and is often a sport that can build skills that will be valuable in other sports - like football.
Like gymnastics, figure skating opens a door to creativity. While it may not be as accessible as gymnastics, figure skating fosters the same positive outcomes. Children with a natural inclination to dance may be drawn to figure skating. Dancing and performing tricks to the rhythm of music is the core of competitive figure skating.
The Benefits of Individual Sports for Kids
There are many benefits of having your child participate in individual sports. Individual sports put the responsibility on your child's shoulders and foster mental toughness. The only person standing in their way is themselves. Yes, they'll experience dips in performance, but it's how they hold themselves accountable on a low day that boosts their gains on a positive day.
Success in individual sports is often more fulfilling than success in a team sport. Players can more easily track their progress throughout the season and feel their change in skill level from week to week. Success in individual sports can also improve confidence and develop a "can do attitude" that athletes can take to other activities in their school or social life.
For your family, individual sports also allow for flexible scheduling, as athletes don't have to stick to concrete team practice schedules. Yes, the gym is only open so many hours per day, and you may have to sign up for time on the ice. However, most individual sports allow children to practice at home and are more flexible with missed practices and events.
Why Should I Choose Team Sports for My Kid?
Even if your child falls in love with an individual sport, you should also consider participation in team sports. Team sports instill valuable life lessons that children don’t necessarily get from individual sports. In team sports, instead of working for themselves, children are working for the good of the group. Team sports teach children how to communicate, give and take criticism, and work together. Finally, team sports instill a sense of good sportsmanship in children, which they might not get from individual activities.
Team sports give each player a specific role to play or job to do. No matter how little or great your child's contribution is to the overall team, they are still an essential part of the overall group. They can revel in a team win and improve together when they experience loss.
While they'll learn the benefits of good communication, they'll also quickly learn the disastrous effect poor communication can have on the whole. Good communication skills are sought after by professions in every field, not just sports. While individual sports can teach children to take personal responsibility, team sports teach them to work well and communicate with others.
Here are some of the most popular team sports for kids. Almost every community will have either recreational or competitive options in each sport below. Just search on Google for youth sports in your community to see what is available.
Baseball & Softball
There's a reason baseball is called America's pastime. A baseball or softball team fosters a group of athletes to do multiple jobs that require a wide range of skill, whether it be hitting, catching, fielding, or pitching.
Children will learn valuable lessons in throwing technique and hand-eye coordination, which they can also transfer to other sports like football and hockey. As one of the most accessible team sports in the country, baseball is a great starting point for children interested in team sports.
Basketball is generally considered the most popular youth sport in the US. While it is traditionally played in the winter, you can find youth basketball opportunities year round in almost every region.
Basketball is an accessible sport that emphasizes personal responsibility and skill. While some argue that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing you can do in any sport, dribbling and shooting a basketball while on the run is a skill that requires a great deal of training for kids.
Children will learn to work as a team, passing and moving the ball around to get it in the hands of an open teammate. Basketball also requires more endurance training, as players run up and down the court for several minutes at a time.
Kids can get started in basketball at a young age at the rec level, and gain more competitive experience as they get closer to high school.
Soccer is often considered the most popular youth sport in the US, especially for players at a young age. The game has very few rules and it is typically easy for players as young as 3 years old to understand the basic concepts. Because of this soccer is a great sport for players to begin to develop basic skills on their feet and to understand the ideas of teamwork.
As players get older, soccer can also be a great sport for developing top level physical fitness. Players need to be able to be in constant motion for up to 45 minutes at a time - with no built in breaks.
Football is often referred to as "the ultimate team sport" because of the wide variety of roles and skills that are required for a team to be successful. While football entails lots of stop-and-go, it's still a physically demanding sport. However, football puts more emphasis on individual roles and jobs than any other team sport.
Each player has a specific assignment on the field, and even if that assignment seems insignificant, it has a major role to play overall.
Football requires contributions from everyone on the team and can teach young athletes the importance of a team mentality.
Whether on the beach or indoors, volleyball is a great team sport that fosters physical fitness with communication and teamwork. Players work together and have to be in constant communication.
Players also need to learn to develop several different skills in order to be successful, regardless of the position they play. Since everyone is always watching the ball, communication and spatial awareness are two skills that develop through volleyball.
The Benefits of Team Sports for Kids
Like individual sports, team sports have their own pros and cons that you, as a parent, will have to weigh before signing your children up.
Team sports teach lessons that children won’t get from individual activity. Whether at school or eventually in the workplace, working well with others is an invaluable skill. It feels good to win as a team, but it also helps to lose as a team. Shared responsibility can take the load off a child's shoulders after a loss in team sports. Teammates can also rally around each other to improve their skills and mechanics.
Being part of a team will encourage your child to try as hard as they can. While they're still putting their best foot forward in individual sports, knowing that other people are relying on them motivates them to excel even further.
However, in all team sports, there will be players that are better than others. Children who feel like they are contributing more than their teammates may feel more frustrated after a loss. On the other hand, children who know they're not as good as some of their teammates may feel inferior. In big moments, the coach is only going to play their best players. Your child needs to understand their role on the team before signing them up or continuing with a youth sport.
Age-Appropriate Youth Sports Activities
Signing your child up for suitable activities based on their age and development has positive effects on their athletic careers going forward. When planning their level of youth sports participation, consider their age and what activities may or may not be appropriate yet.
Ages 2 to 5
Between two and five years of age, your toddler or preschooler likely understands fundamental motor skills but isn't physically or mentally ready for most organized team sports. They can't comprehend complex rules or mechanics like throwing and catching. As such, they'll gain very little if anything from competitive sports at such a young age.
Activities at this age are meant to foster play and fun. Notice their tendencies and use that to push them in a direction later on. If your four-year-old appears drawn to a specific sport, don't discourage it.
If you're looking for team sports opportunities, soccer, flag football, and tee ball will be the most common sports for players ages 5 and under. Search in your community to see if opportunities are available. At this age the sport you choose isn't as important as making sure your child is learning basic physical and teamwork skills to help them grow into more serious participation as they mature.
Flag Football can be a great place to start for athletes ages 5 and under.
Ages 6 to 9
Between ages six and nine, your children can perform more complex athletic tasks. They can follow instructions and concentrate for longer periods. At this age, it's common to sign them up for team activities like swimming, tee-ball, gymnastics, tennis, wrestling, and basketball. These activities will teach your children valuable lessons in technique, coordination, teamwork, and participation.
At this age players are old enough to listen to coaches and work on improving specific skills throughout the year. You should also focus on the athlete's ability to communicate and work together with other players.
At ten years old, children are more physically and mentally developed. They can understand complex strategies in sports like football, volleyball, baseball, and softball. They are also physically mature enough to safely grow muscle through strength training.
By age ten, you can feel comfortable signing your child up for any sport they feel interested in without worrying about hindering their growth and development.
Sports Safety and Wellbeing Concerns of Parents
Getting children involved in youth sports at a young age can be valuable in both their short and long term development. Before signing your child up for their first season, be sure to contact your pediatrician to discuss any specific concerns that may impact your child. You should also schedule regular physicals even if they aren't required by your league.
Outside of the obvious safety concerns from contact sports, parents should ask questions about the coaches and program as a whole. Are the coaches trained in concussion protocol? Are they allowing adequate warm-up and cool-down time for players during practice? All of this information should be clearly communicated by most youth sports organizations prior to registration.
A background check policy and code of conduct can also ease your mind as a parent. Before signing up your child to play you should check with the organization to learn details regarding coaching qualifications, volunteer background checks, and codes of conduct for parents and players.