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How Young is Too Young to Begin Organized Sports?

The deadline for Capital Area Soccer League recreational play registration is Thursday, June 7th. Teams are available for kids beginning at age five, but parents often have questions about when and how to engage their children in organized sports. The most recent Families First included a story on just this topic.

HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG TO BEGIN ORGANIZED SPORTS?
No matter the age of the child or the sport, physical activity offers many benefits, including:

• establishment of long-term healthy living habits
• improved physical fitness
• increased confidence
• helping to build friendships
• increased attention span
• enhanced academic performance
• better sleep
• helping children learn about winning and losing

This is just the short list. Yet, the age at which many children are beginning “organized” sports seems to be younger and younger. At what age should parents begin to consider enrolling their children in sporting activities?

Melissa Bieber, PT, MPT, suggests that, while there are developmental norms for children, “There are no medical signs that a child is at the appropriate age for organized sports. However in general, children younger than seven or eight should be encouraged to engage in more ‘free play’ activities, which foster physical activity, creativity, social skills, and coordination,” she advises.

BASIC SKILLS COME FIRST
Children can start learning the fundamental skills of throwing and catching, kicking and hitting a ball, jumping, running, and swimming at an early age.

The focus at this age and stage however should be on fun and physical activity outdoors. Once they begin to master these skills, then they can progress to learn more about rules and regulations of more organized play, begin to compete, and continue to advance their skills.

Beginning a child in organized sports too young can be frustrating for the child and the parents. The demands of a sport may be too physiologically and psychologically challenging for a younger child, and the child may not have the proper tools to effectively learn the rules and skills necessary for the sport.

When the child is uninterested or physically not able to perform, the parents can get frustrated and the whole experience can be unfulfilling for everyone involved. Children are not able to acquire skills faster just because they learn them sooner. They must be at the right stage developmentally first.

When the child is ready for sports, it should be appropriately aligned with his current abilities and interests. Since each child is different and each sport is different, parents will need to consider each situation on a case-by-case basis.

BE MINDFUL OF SPECIALIZING IN ONE SPORT
Melissa Bieber also cautions parents to be careful not to “specialize” their child in a particular sport too early. Playing one sport all year round at a young age lends itself to many overuse injuries.

If parents let their children have fun and not get overly competitive and specific too early, the results are more likely to be a win-win for both parents and kids.

WakeMed Children’s is dedicated to providing answers to common questions parents have about children’s health and wellbeing.   Learn more by subscribing to WakeMed’s Families First newsletter.  Have a specific question you would like answered?  Post a comment or email us directly.

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