Early sports experience can give kids a leg up, or a push back
By Joe Mitchin
MASSILLON From first tooth to first haircut or first sleep-over and
first date, parents see their kids through many important milestones.
Sometimes the decisions about age-appropriate firsts are easy. Other
times, it’s not so clear.
Choosing an age-appropriate physical activity helps ensure a child will
enjoy it. Here are a few activities you can try with your child based
on age, personality and physical readiness.
Ages 2 through 5: Running, tumbling, throwing, catching, swimming
Ages 6 through 9: Baseball or softball (T-ball), basketball, soccer,
golf, gymnastics, martial arts.
Ages 10+: Contact sports, such as football, hockey, lacrosse, volleyball
Source: Mayo Clinic
At what age should you let your son or daughter participate in
organized sports? That depends, say the experts, on your child’s
While several health organizations suggest it isn’t until around age 6
that children typically develop the necessary attention span and
physical readiness to begin playing sports effectively, really, there’s
no right or wrong answer to the question. What’s more important is for
parents to understand the benefits — and challenges — their children
may experience when trying a sport for the first time.
The key is for parents to pinpoint when they think their child is ready
for such activities before taking any additional action.
“A lot of times it is just about the comfort of the individual kid,”
said Brian Ohm, the youth sports director at the Massillon Family YMCA.
“You’re never going to know unless you’re trying it.”
Kids that begin sports early on have a better chance to learn new
skills that go well beyond the playing field — teamwork, perseverance
and problem-solving, among others.
That’s why entities like the YMCA encourage — and provide — programs
for kids to get their feet wet in first-time athletic experiences. Ohm
said parents can begin to enroll their children into the Y’s youth
soccer program at age 3. If you do, though, keep your expectations
You can’t expect a 3-year-old to suddenly emerge as a sports superstar.
Instead, experts advise parents to have a mindset of simply giving
their kids a chance to run around and begin to follow a path toward a
“Kids nowadays, I don’t think they play as much as they used to,” Mercy
Medical Center physical therapist Brian Walker said. “The whole key to
sports at an early age is just to be active outside. They should be
doing physical activities from the time they are kindergarten and up.”
Fun comes first
In most cases, the competition aspect of sports takes a backseat to
learning how to play games at the youth level. Sometimes that can get
lost in the fold, especially with coaches or parents that get caught in
the trap of pushing their kids at a quick pace.
But as former Jackson Youth Basketball Association president and youth
coach Todd Nicolas says, the top priority for youngsters in sports is
to make sure they are learning to enjoy what they’re doing. If that
objective isn’t reached, then a child’s chances of settling into the
activity drastically decreases. A lot of times, it falls on the coach
to ensure a positive environment for all.
“First and foremost, you just want to introduce them to having fun,”
Nicolas said. “You need to tailor that time you spend with them so that
they’re excited to be there. I think that just fosters everything else.”
In terms of picking up what the coaches are hoping to teach, every
individual child progresses differently. Keep in mind that whether a
child is a natural, or a slow starter, learning at varying paces is
totally normal. Usually, those involved with leading and organizing
youth sports understand that it takes a few years for most children to
get a grip on what’s going on. What’s more, sometimes it takes a while
for kids to realize if they even enjoy the sports they’re playing.
Parents should monitor their child’s interest level in the activity and
take cues from him or her.
“I think the best way to go about it is to just sign them up for
something and see if they like it,” Ohm suggested. “It never hurts to
at least try something. If it doesn’t work out, try again when they’re
a little older.”
How much is too much?
As a child gets older and starts to accelerate in a sport, more
decisions need to be made. There’s a fine line with kids and parents to
decide how many different sports to stick with, and find the right
balance with everything else happening in a child’s life.
Too many activities can often have a child feeling overwhelmed,
particularly when he or she is fully entrenched in school and other
“It’s tough because you can have a lot of peer pressure going on,”
Nicolas said. “As a parent, I think you know when your child is tired.
You just have to put aside that competitive nature of not wanting to
fall behind and just have confidence in raising your child.”
Another thing that falls in line with putting too much on a child’s
plate is physical well-being. Injuries can obviously occur at any time
in any sport. Walker routinely finds himself in situations where a
child gets hurt because he or she overexerted themselves, or did
something the wrong way.
That’s when organized sports can be a plus because children are taught
proper athletic skills, and responsibility. Ultimately, it’s the
parents who have to keep their kids’ best interests in mind to make
sure they remain healthy.
“The parent is always the one in charge of their child, they’re their
guardians,” Walker said. “So, they are the ones in control. That’s
tough because maybe it’s the parent that’s pushing the child. So, when
a child gets injured or something happens, we often have to coach up
the parent as much as the child to get them to understand (their
Ohm favors an early jump on physical and social activity for children.
The sport of choice doesn’t much matter.
“That extra socialization before they get into preschool or
kindergarten, that’s the huge thing, regardless of what sport it is,”
Ohm said. “So, the sooner you get them involved, the sooner they can
pick out what they like.”
Read this article with photos and others at the Canton Repository