"Loving a sport will teach children vital life skills -- discipline, motivation, commitment, and cooperation," says Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist in Cedarhurst, New York. However there are some potential rough patches to work through -- from choosing the right sport, to finding a nurturing team and supportive coach, to learning to watch from the sidelines without making your kid anxious. We've amassed a playbook of strategies to help kids get in the game and thrive -- win, lose, or draw.
Help Her Master the Basics
Most preschoolers aren’t ready for organized team sports, pediatricians say. They’re still learning fundamental motor skills, and getting those motions down is critical for excelling at sports later. If your child focuses on specific skills like batting and kicking before she masters skipping and jumping, she might struggle with running and balancing efficiently. This can make it harder for her to advance in the sport and possibly lead to injury.
Getting your child outside for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day will give her time to master the basics. Some activities can be adult-led, but unstructured play, where she calls the shots, is best. She’ll get a good workout just running around a playground and climbing on equipment. Keep your child excited about exercise by changing activities and thinking outside the ball. Swimming and tumbling are good, age-appropriate options, and dance lessons, riding bikes, and hiking as a family all count.
Don't Overdo It
Sports are such a big deal that sometimes parents can go too far. Some encourage an intense focus on a single sport at an early age, while others enroll their child in four activities at once. However, both approaches can backfire, cautions Tina Syer, associate director of Positive Coaching Alliance, in Mountain View, California. "Too much monotony -- one sport several times a week plus weekend matches -- can make it feel more like a job than a fun activity, but too much variety can leave her too busy to learn to love any one of them." What's the magic number? At this age, kids should play two or three sports a year, so they get a broad range of skills, says Daniel Gould, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in East Lansing. As they get older, they can decide to cut down or stay the course.