When can children start playing sports?

Baby loves kicking the ball around the yard, and is getting pretty good at it, too. So what should you do to encourage their new hobby?

When toddlers express an early interest in sports, parents often wonder whether it’s time to sign them up for a team activity, like soccer or t-ball. While there are plenty of options available, it may be a good idea to think twice about whether they are truly ready to take part in an organized sport.

It seems harmless enough to put a toddler on a sports team. After all, it’s good exercise, and an opportunity for them to socialize with children their own age. Logistically, though, the vast majority of toddlers do not have the skills needed to successfully partake in sports, which is why many toddler sport-activities don’t even try to organize children into a team, and instead focus on games that work on basic motor skills that may be useful in those sports later on. On the other hand, some youth sports organizations are much more goal-oriented. When thinking about signing Baby up for a new activity, it’s important to talk to the organizer to start to get a sense for which type of toddler activity you’re signing Baby up for.

The meaning of being a member of a team, at its most basic, is working together with others to meet a common goal – which is something that doesn’t come easily for toddlers. If Baby is like most children their own age, the idea of taking turns and sharing seem like foreign concepts. However, when you consider what it means to be on a team, both are important elements of playing on most sports teams. How would Baby react to having to share the ball with a teammate, or waiting their turn in line at practice?

Toddlers also have difficulty paying attention for extended periods of time, and following direction. Since teams are lead by a coach, having the ability to listen to what is being expected of them and following through is a critical skill, and one that Baby may still be developing. Having a fun activity to practice these skills in can actually be a great way for Baby to learn, as long as they're working with a teacher or coach who has a solid understanding of what children Baby’s age are up for. This is why having a good idea of exactly what kind of toddler activity Baby is in for before you sign them up is so important – it can help to keep them from getting in over their head.

While there’s not necessarily any harm in registering Baby in a sport, you may still find that they are having more fun running up and down the field than playing the game. If they are easily frustrated, or lacks the coordination to carry out an expected skill, enrolling in a sport too soon can be an off-putting experience. If you’re looking for organized activities for Baby, you’ll find that there are plenty of group classes that focus on having fun and cooperating rather than winning or losing. These kinds of classes still offer many of the same benefits as organized sports, with a bit less structure.

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