Sports skills and toddler development

Baby’s been kicking since before they were even born, but it’s probably not clear yet whether those early kicks were a sign that they were born to run, or just that they felt ready to take on the outside world. Baby may be a whirl of untapped energy, but toddlers their age generally aren’t ready to take on sports in any kind of organized way.

For one thing, toddlers aren’t generally known for being team players, but for another, Baby is also still developing the basic, early skills that they will need in pretty much any sport that could catch their interest as they grow.


Running is one of those skills that makes at least an appearance in most sports, whether it’s constant, like in soccer or track, or something that’s just needed in short bursts, between hours of waiting in line, and watching to see if the ball will come your way, like in baseball. Running involves a lot of balancing, and balance can take some time for a fast-growing tot who’s still developing control over their own body to master. Running usually starts to emerge sometime in the second half of the second year, but there’s no hard-and-fast timeline for when it will begin.

Even once toddlers and young children start to run, it won’t look exactly like how adults look when they run. Young children just don’t get much height when they’re running, and this can lead to a jerky, odd-looking gait, but it’s nothing to worry about, it’s just the way young bodies are better adapted to move.


Baby will never be able to dunk a basketball unless they learn to jump, right? Other athletic activities that involve jumping include long jump, pole vaulting, gymnastics of various kinds, and jumping for joy when your team wins. In order for Baby to get the chance for each of these unmissable childhood activities, they first have to develop the ability to jump with both feet off the ground at once, which usually doesn’t happen until they are somewhere between 2 and 3 years old.

Throwing and kicking a ball

Sports that don’t involve throwing, kicking, or otherwise flinging around a ball are pretty few and far between, so the fact that toddlers learn how to throw and kick things pretty early can be encouraging, from a sporting point of view (and more of a mixed blessing from a state-of-your-kitchen-after-mealtime one). Most toddlers have picked up the basics of throwing and kicking a ball by around a year old, but it can take some time to refine the skill. By the time they’re two and a half, or so, many toddlers are well on their way to being able to throw a ball pretty much where they want it to go, instead of throwing it and then looking around in surprise to see where it lands.


Whether your toddler is envisioning a future as the next person to scale Mount Everest, or they are seriously considering being a goat when they grow up, their body will probably have had to stay on the ground while their mind scaled new heights until some time between 12 and 24 months.

No matter what Baby’s eventual sporting ambitions might or might not end up looking like, the best way to encourage them right now is just to have fun doing physically active activities with them, and giving them plenty of time to explore the new ways of moving that their body is developing as they grow.

  • Mary L. Gavin. “Movement, Coordination, and Your 1-to-2-Year Old.” Kids Health. The Nemours Foundation, September 2014. Retrieved May 26 2017.
  • Laura Sanders. “Why kids look funny when they run.” Science News. Society for Science & the Public, October 11 2015. Retrieved May 26 2017.
  • Andrea Stanley. “When Do Toddlers Start Running?” Parents. meredith women’s network. Retrieved May 27 2017.
  • “Milestones: Children 0-4 Years.” Child and Youth Health. Government of South Australia, March 15 2016. Retrieved May 26 2017. 
  • “Toddlers (1-2 years of age): Developmental milestones.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 1 2017. Retrieved May 26 2017. 

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