As soon as a child can kick or throw a ball, parents look to sign them up for an organized sport. There are so many options! (That’s a little weird right? There is this entire industry created to cater to the parents of 3-5-year-olds who can’t wait to get their kids into a sport.) How do you ever know what to pick? Many parents make the decision for their child. They sign them up for a sport without really knowing what they were getting into. Case in point was when we signed my four-year-old daughter up for soccer. One of her favorite teachers was going to coach a co-ed soccer team for 4 and 5-year-olds. She loved this “Coach” so I thought it was a great way to introduce her to team sports with a man that she already knew well (and whom we knew and trusted). My daughter seemed to love going to practice. She ran up and down the field, learned to kick a ball and enjoyed being with her friends. At that time, my son was a year old and had just started to walk. So, while she was practicing, we were walking all over the park trying to find anything that would hold his interest for 45-60 minutes. (That was certainly something I had not considered – how exhausting it would be to “entertain” the other child while one practiced. Let’s just say it was good exercise for me but exhausting on hot afternoons.) The time came, and the team was ready for the first game, they had practiced and somewhat knew the rules. But as soon as we were on the sidelines ready to go, my daughter grew roots and would not budge. She did NOT want to go out on the field! She hugged our legs, refused to budge and even shed a few tears. What was going on? I was not prepared for this scenario, I had no idea this was even possible. I didn’t expect her to be a super star, but I thought that she would at least go out, run around and have fun. I had no idea what to do. She sat with us on the sidelines for most of the game and eventually she gathered enough confidence to go out on the field for a couple minutes. This went on for a few games and by the end of the season, she was out there running around, looking at the clouds and picking grass just like many of the other kids on the field. In hindsight, do I think she was ready to play a sport? Honestly, I don’t really know. I think it was a good experience for her, but when we asked if she wanted to play another season she said no. (And we respected that.)
I talk to a lot of parents who ask, when is the right time to get my child involved in sports? This is a great question because I think you should ask yourself if this is the right time. In the case with our daughter, I didn’t give it much thought from that perspective. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it because that’s just what kids do, right? I fell into the trap like a lot of parents who are so excited to sign their kids up that they just do it. Now, having years to reconsider and witness hundreds of young kids playing sports, I think it’s important for parents to answer a few questions before signing their child up for sports:
- Does the child want to play the sport? Our kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and even at age 4 and 5 they know what they want. Before you jump the gun and sign up on their behalf, ask them if they want to play. When my son was 4 I asked if he wanted to play soccer, to which he replied “nah” so we didn’t sign him up. We continued to ask in each of the seasons until he said yes to t-ball when he was about 5 ½. They know what they want. Listen to them.
- Why do you want them to play a sport? Really ask yourself, what you are hoping they will gain from the experience. Is it teamwork? Sportsmanship? Friendship? Hand-eye coordination? Is it because you used to play? Be honest with yourself and be very clear about why you are doing it. It may help to write it down, so you can remind yourself mid-season why you signed up for this in the first place.
- Based on your child’s personality, should they be in a team sport or a solo sport (i.e. swimming, golf, tennis)? If your child has a tendency to hard on themselves or has perfectionist type qualities, you might consider getting them involved in a team sport. If they do better playing on their own, then maybe a solo sport is best. You can always switch sports as their interests change, but you want to make sure they are in an environment where they are going to be comfortable and feel supported doing what comes naturally to them.
These questions may seem very basic but based on the behavior of the parents that I’ve seen, few parents ask themselves these questions. Your children can greatly benefit from playing sports, but you need to make sure they are ready before you sign them up. Have a conversation with your child emphasizing the reason to play is to have fun and then let them decide what they want to do. One last thing, remember this is supposed to be fun for you too, enjoy watching them play.
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