Fair Game News Logo

DRAFTED at 5? How to get kids sport skills (without burning out).

October 8, 2010 – 3:33 PM

By Katie Culver

We parents are obsessed with starting children in competitive sports as early as possible. How else to get them to the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Olympics or the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL?

If our son is going pro in soccer, my husband and I joke, we need him on the best team with the best coaching – and fast. But are we ignoring his football and lax potential? And, you know, he’s a good basketball player…

Never mind that he’s SIX. We’re not insane (really). World-class athletes tell in interviews about how their parents started them young and about the hours of practice necessary to emerge at the top of their game – whatever game that is.

So, shouldn’t we parents get on the stick? Maybe – not. Too many parents can’t choose what sport is best for their child and don’t, instead enrolling 5-and-6-year-olds in everything — soccer, flag-football, swimming lessons, dance class, golf, tennis, gymnastics, basketball, t-ball.  Children are also starting on teams and in activities at ages 3 and 4.  But realistically children are not ready to handle an instructional clinic until 4 or ready to be part of a team until age 5.

And guess what? They don’t NEED to. Starting kids on competitive teams when they are too young sends the wrong message and might even stress them out! What many parents seem to have forgotten is the need for children to just PLAY. For fun-at the playground or in the backyard.

The benefits of developing coordination and physical skills in an informal setting are overlooked and undervalued. Spend time tossing or kicking a ball with your child, climbing playground equipment, running around, playing tag, skipping and dancing together, riding a bike or climbing a tree. Babies who sit in exersaucers all day and children poised in front of the computer screen or TV do not develop physical skills which will enable them to play sports at an appropriate age.

All-around gym classes are one way for young children to develop physical skills. When they each reached age 3, I enrolled my son and, now, my daughter in a class that involves basic tumbling, climbing, jumping and running around a gym in a fun, silly setting. Both exhibit absolute joy, exuberantly participating in both the creative play and skills portions of the class. What I noticed most: how much their confidence increased. (I watch from the observation area outside the gym-yay! We skip mommy/baby classes. Who needs to PAY to play with a baby?)

These activities may not look like the serious sports we parents envision our children playing, but this stuff matters. Often parents start a child in a competitive sport and expect them to be great without having put time into developing basic competencies and — most important — confidence.

Think of the early years as pre-season:

1.) PLAY with your kids! Have fun with informal sports and let them see you play. This should start when they are babies – and do it with your girls!!

2.) Challenge your kids athletically, but don’t stress competition too early. A child thrown into a team situation without having time to play for fun will not enjoy the experience. Listen to your kids. If they don’t want to do a team sport yet, don’t make them.

3.) Natural athletic ability can be evident in very young kids, but children change as they develop (plus some sports like rowing and fencing aren’t an option until they are much older). So even if your child may not seem interested in sports now, don’t make it harder for them to join later on by failing to equip them with basic athletic competency skills. Even those not destined for the Hall of Fame can develop basic physical coordination and experience the joy of playing a sport.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.