With team sports, the emphasis is as much on the “team” as on the “sports.” In addition to athletic skills, players learn valuable, life skills that come from being part of a team, including patience, communication, and resilience.
Toddlers and preschoolers are too young for most organized sports, as far as skills and following directions are concerned; they can become frustrated easily. But all that teammate interaction? It can start early. The focus is on fun. Look into organized activities that tackle age-appropriate skills like running, throwing and catching, and tumbling.
Beginning at age five or six, according to the Mayo Clinic, kids are developmentally ready for sports like t-ball, softball and
baseball, soccer, gymnastics and swimming. The child should be coached at an age-appropriate level; their motor skills will not develop more quickly just because they’ve been introduced at an earlier age.
Keep ’em playing
It’s only natural for a six or seven year old who’s playing three or four sports to decide that she doesn’t like one or two. But statistics show that by the time they’re 13, kids have narrowed their sports to just one, if they’re playing at all. Why?
Gregory Stewart, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with the Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine, has been working on a study to understand why middle and high schoolers are dropping out of sports. He cites several reasons, including overuse injuries, concerns about changing body image, and youth burnout—sometimes from a child not being able to fulfill the parent’s dream of becoming an elite athlete.
“When it’s the parent driving it, pushing the child,” he says, “it no longer becomes fun. It has to be fun for the child.”
Additionally, by the time kids get to middle and high school, there often aren’t opportunities to participate in team sports unless they’re a top performer.
Sometimes, kids drop out of sports because they simply don’t enjoy participating in “traditional” team competition. Parents can look with their child into athletic activities that focus more on individual performance—like swimming, tennis or karate—but still provide a supportive team environment. As long as your child likes the activity, enjoys the process, and developing new skills, it’s all good.
How to handle THAT coach. Winning is everything. They play favorites, yell at the refs—or worse, at your child. What do you do?
- Wait till after practice, or the day after the game, to talk privately to the coach. Be non-confrontational, and discuss how his or her behavior may hurt kids’ confidence.
- If the coach is unresponsive, contact league organizers with your concerns. Move up the chain, if there is one, starting with the age-group supervisor.
- If you are unable to get the coach to modify his or her behavior, consider moving your child to a different coach or team, even mid-season.
- If you can’t change coaches and/or teams, and the situation becomes intolerable, consider pulling your child from the team for the remainder of the season; it’s better to cut a season short than to risk turning your child off the sport completely.
Don’t be THAT parent. Recognize the signs that you might have a problem. And then stop it.
- Unless you’re wearing a team shirt and have the whistle around your neck, don’t coach your kid, or any others, during the game. The plays aren’t yours to call.
- Don’t yell negative comments at your child (or any other). “Don’t strike out!” and “You should have had that!” won’t help anyone.
- Don’t yell at the coach, or question his decisions during a game. It’ll tick him off, and distract the players.
- Don’t argue with the ref or umpire. You are there to be a spectator.
- Don’t show up to a game after drinking. It can cause a normally perfectly pleasant parent to commit #s 1-4.
For more on safety concerns in team sports, especially with very young athletes, see our article by Sarah Herndon.