Too early to start team sports?

Four-year-olds running amuck on the soccer field are adorable, but what is your child learning from team sports at this age? Pick the right time to start sports and you’ll boost their confidence and develop skills.

Starting kids in sports before they are developmentally ready can lead to frustration and quitting. One out of three kids in organized sports drops out every year. Proven benefits of team sport participation include finding a peer group, developing independence and learning to enjoy exercise as an adult. So it’s important to encourage children to participate when they’re ready.

Kids are ready for team sports around age ten, when they understand strategy and have sufficient coordination. Most kids can quickly catch and throw a ball from a long distance by this age. Strategizing may take more time to develop. It may sound odd, but playing a board game with your child is a good test of sports-readiness. Does your child plan his moves ahead? If your son tries to outmaneuver you, you know he can work as a team member to make a goal!

Even if your nine-year-old can execute an offensive play to pass a ball and make a goal, younger kids’ brains aren’t physically able to reliably process both the speed and direction of a ball at the same time. So, for the sake of her pretty nose, be sure your daughter can easily follow a ball through the air with her eyes before she tries volleyball.

When can a kid learn to ski?

Your child must be able to make pigeon feet (turn both toes in to make a wedge) before they can be successful. This ability appears sometime between age four and five and there’s no point trying to ski before they have the necessary muscle control.


For six-to-nine-year-olds, choose gymnastics, dance, or martial arts. Kids this age have good coordination because their brain’s balance system has integrated with their eyes. However, they are still limited by short attention spans. If you think your young child is ready to try team sports, T-ball is a great choice, but be sure to keep practice times short.

Very young children (age 2-5) haven’t fully integrated their brain’s visual system with their balance, so activities that emphasize skills like running, tumbling and throwing are best. Pre-school gymnastics classes are a good choice.

Starting kids in sports before their brains are developmentally ready leads to frustration and quitting. So don’t start too early and avoid burnout by making sports fun! Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Pediatrician at Children's Primary Care Medical Group, La Jolla, CA

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