IS YOUR CHILD READY TO PLAY SPORTS?
Make Sure He’s Old Enough to Know What He Wants
The first question to ponder is an obvious one, but it is one many parents often forget to ask. That question is, “Does my child want to do this?” Your child is not going to be ready for something he has no interest in doing. He will also have no motivation if he feels he is being forced into something he does not want to do. So, the first sign of sports readiness is a love for the game or at least a love of sports in general. Consider whether or not your child enjoys watching this sport being played. Also, notice if he likes doing similar activities. For example, if he is going out for soccer, do you see him kicking the ball around in the backyard? If your daughter is going to sign up for gymnastics, do you often find her turning cartwheels?
Determine Basic Skills
Once you know that the interest is there, assess what skills are needed for the sport. If you’re not sure, you can always ask one of the coaches or organizers. If your child needs good hand eye coordination or well developed gross motor skills, gauge whether or not your child has these skills in place. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t ready. More important than the physical skills are the right attitudes and coping skills. Going out for swim team, for example, requires a lot of well-developed motor skills and body strength. However, swimming can help to develop the skills necessary and strengthen all the muscles in the body. If it is going to be difficult physically but still beneficial, your child will need the positive outlook necessary to keep from getting frustrated and to celebrate all his small accomplishments without comparing himself to others.
Consider His Ability to Work With Others
If you find that your child’s physical and mental skills are in the right place, think about what is needed socially to be a part of a team. Does your child know how to play well with others? Can he win and lose gracefully? Does he know how to both lead and follow? Maybe your child does not fit this criteria yet, and that’s okay. Sometimes sports are just the thing to teach these skills. The key is knowing if your child is ready to be taught. See how he responds to you when you try to teach him some of these values. If he is open and responsive, he’s probably ready on a social level for participation in sports.
Take His Schedule Into Account
Now it’s time to think practically. How much time will the sport take compared to how much time your child has to spare? Children are busier now than ever before, and it’s taking a toll on them. Adults often have difficulty managing their time, and it is even harder for children to do this. If your child is already signed up for several activities and has a couple of hours of homework each night, a sport might just be too taxing to add to the mix. For that first sports season, it may be best to ensure that the sport is the only thing your child is doing other than school. If your child gets overloaded and overwhelmed, it will turn him off to sports altogether.
Take Stock of Your Own Readiness
After you’ve figured out all the ins and outs in regards to your child, take a few moments to think about yourself. It’s often just as difficult on the parents as it is on the child when a new sport is undertaken. Do you have someone to share the carpooling with, or will you have to be at every practice and game? What mandatory volunteering will you be obligated to do, if any? How will all this fit with your schedule? If you can make it work time-wise, be sure you can handle it emotionally as well. It’s not always easy to watch your child play sports. Sometimes parents worry about their child getting hurt. Other times, they find themselves feeling overly competitive and pushing their child too hard. Ask yourself if you can commit to this sport and if you can also commit to keeping it light and fun for your child.
Unfortunately, another factor that often comes into play for families is money. Sports can be expensive. You not only pay to play, but you often have to buy equipment and this can add up quickly into a major expense. Be certain that you know what you are getting yourself into and that your child wants it bad enough for it to be worth both the time and money that the family will be putting out.
Reasons to Ensure Readiness
Sports are wonderful experiences for children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should get at least one hour of exercise per day. Participation in sports programs can help to provide this to them. Being a part of a team also builds social skills, leadership, and peer relations. Learning new skills increases confidence, while winning and losing provide opportunities to develop lifelong coping and sportsmanship skills. There are not many negative things that you can say about sports, but if your child is not ready, their confidence can plummet and they can wind up avoiding sports in the future because of a bad first experience. Also, if the parents aren’t ready, the whole family’s quality of life can suffer until the season ends.
Carefully Consider Your Child’s Individual Needs
There are no set answers as to when a child is ready to play a sport. Every child and every sport is different. Some children are ready for sports as soon as they can run, while others need time to develop more both physically and emotionally. Ask yourself the important questions and look deeply into the program you are considering. If you find your child really is not ready, there are always other programs that are less intense. For example, if the swim team is just too much, there are always swimming lessons. If the soccer team is too demanding, consider a beginner’s soccer clinic or a Pee Wee sports camp. Whether you decide to sign your child up right away or wait until the following season, finding ways to instill the values of exercise, teamwork, and sportsmanship are some of the best things you can do as a parent.