What is the Recommended Age for Children to Compete in Sports
Children who play sports before they are physically and emotionally ready can suffer severe harm. Parents should consider the child's physical development and ability to handle stress when determining the level of competition for which he is ready. This is a difficult determination because every child grows and matures at a different rate. At every age level, guidelines can assist parents in choosing the most appropriate sports activities for a child. These guidelines prevent injuries and help develop a child's confidence and self-esteem.
Infants are certainly not ready for competitive activities. However, at 6 to 7 months of age, infants do begin to operate their leg and body muscles. They begin to use their hands to grasp and release objects. The more opportunities infants have to handle objects the more confident they will become in their ability to use their hands. At 15 months of age, infants enjoy holding and dropping balls.
Unstructured, non-competitive, activities are best for preschoolers. They are now confident in using their arms and feet. They should participate in activities that require arm and leg movement to develop their motor skills. Games that require running are ideal. Tag, where one player must run to touch another player, is a favorite of preschoolers. Kick the can, where players first hide and then run to kick a can, is another popular game.
Six to Ten Years
Between the ages of 6 to 10, children seek independence. They want to choose their own activities. They should not feel that winning is the primary goal of the sports they choose. If they do, losing may make them feel insecure and even inferior to the children who become the winners of the contest. This is the time for children to learn to lose gracefully and to try to understand the point of view of their competitors. The goals for children at this age should be vigorous exercise and working together with other children. Soccer, T-ball, gymnastics and swimming are appropriate choices.
Consider highly competitive sports for children beginning at age 11. Most children are now physically and emotionally able to absorb intense physical contact and stress. A child's personality, strength, speed and stamina are also important factors. A strong, fast child is likely to excel in football. A child with a high degree of endurance is likely to excel in hockey. If the child is small for his age, choose individual sports like tennis, fencing or wrestling. In these sports, he will compete with children of his own size.