Youth Sports

Getting Your Kids Started With Organized Sports

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This article, by the owners of Great Play, was picked up by dozens of media outlets including Yahoo! Shine.

Twenty million kids will register for youth sports this year, many of them for the first time. Numerous studies show the benefits of participating in regular physical activity as a child, and organized sports can be a fun way to fit in the recommended 60 minutes a day. In addition, sports participation can teach children about teamwork and allow them to form bonds that will last for years to come. With spring just around the corner, it may be time to consider signing your child up for a league.

Here are some thoughts for parents to keep in mind as they navigate the world of youth sports for the first time: 

1. Don't rush. Make sure they’re ready

There is no single “right” age to start organized sports. Some children are physically and mentally ready to enjoy sports as young as age 4, while others won’t be ready for several more years. You know your child best!  Don’t push them into something too young and risk a negative experience. They will not be “behind” if they wait several more years and start when they will actually enjoy it.

By simply learning a few skills of the sport before starting, kids can jump into a sport at a later age and be as or even more successful.

2. Know what you’re getting into if you do start young

Soccer or basketball at younger ages is generally just a mass of kids chasing the ball and pushing! It favors size and aggressiveness and bears relatively little resemblance to the game that the kids will play when they’re older and understand the concept of “spreading out.”

No need to have the smaller or less aggressive 4 or 5 year old have a bad experience and decide he or she doesn’t enjoy the sport, when it might be a great fit later on.  T-Ball, with all its “standing around” time, can be downright painful for your 5 year old (and for you)! It is best for children who have demonstrated an interest in the sport – either watching MLB games or being dragged to games of their older siblings – and want to finally get their turn.

Otherwise, starting at age 7 is just as good and will not limit your child’s likelihood of being on the all-star team at age 10. It may just limit the number of sandcastles they build in the infield in the meantime!

3. Learn some skills in advance (or risk a bad experience)

Kids tend to have fun when they experience some success – catching the ball, making a good pass, taking a good shot, etc. When they have fun, they want to keep playing, and by playing they get better. This begins a self-reinforcing cycle that can lead to long-term participation. 

It's important to understand that recreational leagues are generally good opportunities to play the sports. However, leagues tend to do a poor job of teaching skills. There are often many kids per coach, with relatively little practice time, and coaches are generally parent volunteers who may lack the specialized expertise to teach sport skills to kids. A child who shows up for the first time having never learned the basics could be set up for failure and disappointment.

Give your child a leg up by teaching them the fundamental skills of the sport – either on your own or by enrolling in a program geared to teaching the skills of the game, like the Sports Skill class we offer at Great Play. If they know how to throw a baseball or the proper way to square up their foot for a soccer pass, they will be well on their way to a successful experience on a team.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

Not every sport is the right fit for every child. It is common for kids to test out many sports before finding one or two that they love.

Don’t push your child into a sport that they are unhappy with or give up on organized sports just because the first one they try isn’t a perfect match.  In addition, experts recommend that children play multiple sports and not specialize too young. They will develop greater coordination, be less prone to injury, and be less likely to burn out if they play a few different sports.

5. Keep it positive and fun!

Remember that the main goal is for your child to enjoy the sport(s) and ultimately want to keep participating in the future. Your approval can go a long way. Point out the positives and progress made in every practice or game so that they feel a sense of accomplishment even after the games they don’t win.

Help them avoid setting expectations so high that they can’t succeed. For instance, getting a first hit in baseball can be very hard. A better initial goal might be simply to swing the bat at the right time! And then to make contact. And ultimately to get a hit. With the right attitude, your child can enjoy sports participation, which can, in turn, lead to greater levels of fitness and health, self-confidence and long-term friendships.