What Age Should I start my kids in Team Sports & How do I know if they are ready?
The quick answer is NOW! If your kid can listen, communicate, and has the interest, then they are ready to start.
I know you might be thinking, but my kid is "________" (fill in the blank with your concern or special circumstances). And although there are special circumstances that would justify a later start, I still think that most kids can and should start between the ages of 3-6. By this age they are potty trained, they can communicate, and they can listen (most of the time anyway! ??). The reality is, the biggest hurdle is not your child's experience, personality, or circumstance. The biggest hurdle is YOU!
1. Do YOU have realistic expectations for what your child should be getting out of their first sports experience?
2. Do YOU have the patience to allow them to grow at their pace?
3. Is YOUR goal for their sports participation in line with your kids and is it appropriate for their age?
In my experience, I have had 3-year-olds start sports for the first time with no issue and seen 10-year-olds truly struggle to participate in their first experience. No matter what the age the same three questions apply. So instead of trying to find the perfect age to start, instead start thinking about how you answer those three questions and what you need to do to prepare for your child's first sports experience.
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: A child's first sports experience is not about technique, skill, and performance. It is about fun, support, and participation. I have had a parent of a 3-year-old, yell at me because their kid was not being taught how to turn a double play during a T-Ball game. This parent's expectation was not in line with the players or the leagues for this age. The focus should be on making sure your child is having fun, they are eager to participate, and that they are encouraged throughout. That kid will learn a double play in time, but if you are already yelling at coaches and placing expectations on performance on a 3-year-old, then there is a good chance he will turn away from the game much sooner than you hoped!
PATIENCE: Not all kids learn to read at the same pace, not all kids understand math as easy as others, and not all kids adapt to sports the same way. Some kids are naturals in these areas, and some learn and develop slower. The ingredient for success for new participants is having patient support from those around them. So, if your kid is having a real hard time on the field/court, then that just means you need more patience to allow things to click. Some kids take a few minutes, others a few games, others a full season or more. The important thing is that you continue to bring them and give them the support they need. The first goal in sports is participation. Once participation is established, then start building a foundation of confidence and basic motor movements. Skill, outcome, and performance come last!
AGE-APPROPRIATE: Especially for kids between ages 3-6, but really for all kids under 14, the number one reason why they play is to have fun! If your goal is the same then there is no pressure, no expectations, and worry if it takes time. When you worry about performance and comparing them to other kids, that is when you are going to struggle and so is your child. Instead, focus on them having fun and participating and do not worry about the technique and performance. For young kids, the focus should be on fun, social skills, and basic motor movement. The average kid does not develop strong muscle memory until about age 12, so who cares if his throwing motion is a little weird. Do you stress when your 3-year-old struggles to understand Hide & Seek? Of course not, we let them play and enjoy themselves because we know eventually they will figure it out. So why should sports be any different? Let them have fun and learn so that they play long enough to develop their skills.
Now for sportspeople, following these three steps is NOT easy. Seeing my 3-year-old son cry on the sidelines while I coached his t-ball team was a gut punch every Saturday, but the social development growth he has made the last few years has been awesome to see! We still have our days and moments now as a 5-year-old, but we recover fast and get back to playing. And by the way, his swing is coming along great as well!!
We all understand the importance of Pre-School when it comes to preparing kids for Kindergarten. And just like Pre-School some kids adapt quickly, and others have a harder time adjusting, but we are patient and supportive because we know how important it is. The only difference is how you as the parent approach it. When your kid cried his first day at school you were heartbroken and empathetic, so why do we get frustrated and disappointed when they have those same struggles in sports? For a kid those are the same type of activities, the difference is YOUR perception and expectation!
Remember don't compare, have the right expectations, and stay patient. Sports are so impactful to kids and an early start with the right mindset and expectations can ensure that they have a long and positive sports experience!
If you have questions about whether your child is ready, want to talk about the best sports or programs to start with, or have any other questions related to this topic please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to help!