There is no age too young for physical activity. Infants and toddlers develop motor skills through play. Between ages one and three, a tricycle is a great introduction to movement and self-propelled fun. Push toys keep them moving and helps develop balance and coordination. While they may be too young for a specific sport, they are developing the gross motor skills they will need to participate as they grow. Keeping children physically active is beneficial in multiple ways. One way to encourage physical activity is involvement in sports. Of course, as children grow and develop different skill sets, they will enjoy different sports.
Children who begin their introduction to sports through free play will develop a love for staying active.
Encouraging a love for physical activity and movement is especially crucial as children develop. Participating in a team sport allows them to develop long-lasting friendships and gives them a sense of belonging. Staying physically active enhances their mental focus and keeps their bodies strong. Nannies and parents may wonder about when it is appropriate to introduce specific sports to children. Since different sports require different skill sets, certain sports are better suited for specific years of your child’s life when they have developed the required skills. Here are some suggestions by age groupings.
A 3 to 5-year-old does not yet have the skills for pole vaulting or the attention span to play team sports.
They are still learning coordination and may not be able to follow directions or understand rule as well as older children. But there are a lot of ways to keep them active and foster and interest in sports. Game playing that includes throwing and kicking balls, hide-and-go-seek and running are excellent ways to get children to associate sports with fun. Let them have free play to use their imaginations and create their own games. They can be introduced to skiing, basketball, t-ball and biking (with training wheels of course). If they appear to have an interest in a specific sport, encourage that interest by playing with them and watching the sport together.
Sports that encourage hard work and individual mental focus, while fostering teambuilding are appropriate for this age group. Some of the best sports include:
- Swimming: Swimming can be learned and practiced as a solo activity, but swimming with a group can be more fun. It helps to teach coordination and improve physical fitness.
- Dance: Starting children in dance at a young age supports creativity, socialization, cognitive connections as well as physical coordination. Because dance expressions are unlimited, preschoolers find great joy in letting loose.
- Soccer: Soccer is an excellent starter sport for learning teamwork and rules.
- Running: Kids naturally run. If you want to foster running as a sport, start off with short distances. You can have races with the child and their siblings or friends. You can miss with games of tag and relay races.
- Gymnastics: Gymnastics is a great pick for 3 to 5-year-olds, because it lets them to run, jump, and play while learning new things.
The 5 to 9-year-old is quite a bit more coordinated than the toddler but is still developing important skills.
They are entering school and will be interested in new experiences and skills. Sports for these ages may be more focused on teamwork and competition. It may take some trial and error before a child finds the sports that really interest them. Here are some to consider:
- Baseball: This sport focuses on teamwork and coordination. There are different team positions requiring different skill sets. Most areas have recreational baseball teams for children of all ages.
- Basketball: This is another sport that is ideal for children who enjoy teamwork. Interest in this sport may start with a driveway hoop and evolve into participation on recreational or school teams.
- Track and Field: If a child is not particularly interested in team sports, they may like the variety of activities available in track and field. They can participate individually (cross country, discus, pole vaulting) or as part of a team (relay races)
- Golf: Golfing can be a sport enjoyed as a family. Before introducing your child to this sport, make sure they are mature enough to understand the rules and course etiquette.
When a child reaches pre-teenage (9 to 12) years, they start to develop a sense of independence.
Group sports is usually a good avenue for them because social interaction becomes a higher priority. They have greatly improved coordination and understand the benefits of training and practice. They may become more adventurous and want to try different things. Here are a few sports to consider include:
- Diving: If your child is a swimmer with an interest in diving, platform and springboard diving are two of the most spectacular and exciting aquatic sports. They involve an immense amount of strength, flexibility and courage.
- Karate: Although many dojos accept students as young as 3 or 4, it is never too late to start studying a martial art. Why the younger students can learn the moves, the older child can better understand the philosophies and incorporate training with more details in techniques.
- Tennis: As with karate, although many children may start younger, it’s never too late to start tennis. The game requires coordination and fast movement while determining ball speed, depth and spin. Children can learn the basics and compete as individuals or part of a team.
- Hockey: If a child is interested in learning to ice skate or knows how to skate and wants to learn new skills, hockey may be the sport for them. Many children enjoy the game because of the speed of play and intense action.
By the time your child hits teenage years, they are likely to dictate more of their own choices regarding sports.
They tend to be more competitive and look for activities that challenge them. They may have already found their favorite sport(s) activities. They may also have experienced burnout. They may feel that sports are taking up too much time or “running their life”. Have open communication with your teen about what they are feeling and if they want to cut back or change their physical activity/sport level. Remember – the key is balance and sports should be fun!
If you are a nanny and want to learn how to incorporate fitness into childcare or are caring for a child athlete, check out the nanny classes offered by the Nanny Institute. These college level courses can elevate your career and help you provide better care to each child.