Parenting 101: There is no rule book. There are a million people out there with a million different opinions offering guidance based on their own studies or what worked for them – but the advice varies and the only thing certain is that there is no one universally “right” answer. To anything. So, when it comes to trying to determine when your child is ready to start athletics, don’t be surprised when you find a million different answers. That said, there are a few ways to determine the proper answer for your actual child. Here are a few things to consider:
HOW INDEPENDENT ARE THEY?
Not every child will walk into a room of strangers and greet themselves – and that’s ok! But are they able to communicate on their own with a coach and follow directions with little guidance? If you still need to be heavily involved in their coaching and actions, they may not be ready for true athletics just yet – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for introductory activities: There are tons of parent-child classes out there for everything from tiny tumblers to pee-wee soccer. These kinds of programs tend to focus more on basic social skills while getting some energy out and building physical strength and coordination. If your child is fairly comfortable taking direction, has the basics down on being part of a group and cooperating, and is safely past the potty-training years, they may be ready for athletics.
WHAT ARE THEIR PHYSICAL ABILITIES AND OPPORTUNITIES?
One of the great things about athletics is that they build your child’s skills and physical fitness, along with confidence, focus, social skills, and a slew of other perks. That said, of course, no child comes in fully trained – but they should have basic coordination down. In this case, they should be able to walk and run steadily, be able to regularly catch a ball and throw or kick to someone with some level of accuracy and have refined gross and small motor skills. Typically, around age four or five, most children will be physically ready. In terms of deciding which sport to start them in, consider areas that they have a growth opportunity or talent. For example, if they need to improve balance, gymnastics could be a great fit; if they need to improve in the throwing/ catching department, perhaps baseball or something hand-eye related.
ARE THEY INTERESTED?
Motivation is important for children who want to play team sports. The number one factor in your decision process should take into consideration your child’s interests. Talk with them and open a dialogue if they haven’t already proactively mentioned something they’d like to do. If they have no interest, maybe test the waters with a trial class before you fully invest and take it from there. If they’re interested, all the better!