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Is your child ready for team sports?

Children playing soccer.

Team sports can help kids learn a variety of skills that will help them throughout their lives. But it’s important to choose the right sport at the right time for your child.

You may be eager for your child to join an area sports league. It's many a parent's dream to cheer on their child as they hit a home run or score a goal.

Team sports, such as soccer or baseball, can help your child stay fit and develop physical and social skills. But if your child isn't ready to play, the positive aspects of team sports can be lost.

For lasting benefits, focus on fun

While team sports can benefit your child in many ways, keep in mind that first and foremost your child needs to have fun. The emphasis should not be on winning. If the focus is on winning instead of fun, your child may have a negative experience.

But if your child has fun, they are more likely to stick with a sport and benefit from it later in life.

Sports can help children develop social skills and learn to work well with others—qualities that can help young adults succeed in school and the workplace.

Team sports can also teach children how to follow directions and work in a group setting.

And maybe most important, team sports provide children with an opportunity to get involved in physical activity at an early age.

When to start

There is no set beginning age for a child to join a sports team. Different kids mature at different ages.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most children 5 and younger don't have the basic motor skills for organized sports. Balance and attention span are limited, and their vision and ability to track moving objects are not mature. That doesn't mean noncompetitive sports are off the table. At this age, the AAP recommends sports that hone basic skills—like running, swimming, tumbling, throwing and catching.

By the time they are 6 years old, most children have the basic motor skills for simple, organized sports. But keep in mind they may not yet be ready to understand concepts like teamwork and strategies. Sports that can be adapted so they can be played at a basic level and that focus on basic motor skills are the most appropriate. These might include running, swimming, soccer, baseball, tennis, martial arts and skiing.

By ages 10 to 12, most children are ready for more complex sports. Still most experts believe that sports at this level should focus on skill development, fun and participation—not competition.

Where to start

When you think your child is ready, it's important to select the right sport. Fit the skills your child has to the sports. For example, sports like soccer are simpler. Although your child may not know the rules, they can grasp the idea of kicking a ball in a certain direction.

Even if your child doesn't develop advanced skills in a sport, encourage them to continue taking part. If your child isn't athletically gifted, you might try finding a less competitive league for them to play in. As long as your child is having fun, it doesn't matter how good of a player they are.

reviewed 2/25/2020

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