Choosing the Best Sports For Your Child

Children of all ages can benefit from participating in sports and engaging in physical activity. As a parent, you may want to consider your child’s age, personality, interests, and abilities when signing them up to participate in sports and activities. It may be useful to implement a phased approach with your child for sports participation—start with non-competitive, free-play activities and gradually move to more competitive, organized sports. For example, for toddlers and preschoolers (ages 2 to 5 years), sports should be less structured and competitive and focused on having fun and helping your child develop their social skills while being active. As your child grows and advances in their skill level, they may develop the physical, mental, and social skills required for organized sports, and they may gravitate towards a specific team (e.g., basketball) and/or individual sports activities (e.g., swimming). Consider the information below as you evaluate your child’s readiness for a sports program and choose a suitable sport activity.

Benefits of Sports

  • Promotes healthy behaviors.
  • Teaches new skills that contribute to your child’s overall development.
  • Encourages social play, teamwork, and sportsmanship.
  • Expands the family’s circle of support.
  • Improves physical and mental health.
  • Develops relationships with parents and other authority figures.
  • Helps children maintain focus.
  • Offers opportunities for fun and exploration.
  • Encourages children to build friendships.
  • Develops leadership skills.
  • Boosts your child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Helps teach the value of balancing successes and failures.

“First” Sports

Instead of choosing sports that emphasize competition, choose sports geared toward having fun and being active. Some good sport activities for children to learn first are activities such as running, tumbling, and swimming because the focus is basic skill development through active play, and these activities do not require organized rules (Healthychildren.org, 2019). These activities can improve your child’s coordination, help your child develop body awareness, increase social skills if your child plays and interacts with others, and teach your child skills that can prepare them for more organized activities. First sports also offer your child an opportunity to have fun with the entire family.

Physical Activity Based on Your Child’s Age and Development

Age Child’s Behaviors Activity Characteristics Example Sports and Activities
Birth to 1 year
  • Developing motor skills
  • Awareness of sights and sounds
  • Requires hands-on support
  • Stranger and separation anxiety
  • Practice basic skill development
  • Requires hands-on parental guidance
  • Child-led
  • Unstructured
  • Developed during daily routines
  • Pretend play
  • Tummy time
  • Roll over
  • Sit up
  • Kick
  • Bounce
  • Crawl
  • Pull up
  • Walk
  • Jump
2 to 5 years
  • Basic motor skills
  • Developing balance
  • Short attention span
  • Sharp vision
  • Follow a show-and-tell format
  • Noncompetitive
  • Limited instruction
  • Feels like playtime
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Tumbling
  • Throwing
  • Playing catch
  • T-ball
6 to 9 years
  • Mature motor skills
  • Developing hand-eye coordination
  • Developing understanding of teamwork and rules of the game
  • Simple and organized
  • Flexible rules
  • Teaching new skills
  • Less focus on winning
  • Modified game times and equipment
  • Soccer
  • Baseball/Softball
  • Tennis
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
  • Skiing
  • Surfing
  • Rock climbing
10 to 12 years
  • Advanced motor skills
  • High visual and mental sharpness
  • Understanding of strategy and teamwork
  • Starting puberty
  • Complex sports
  • Focus on skill development
  • Promotes teamwork
  • Comparable to your child’s physical size and ability
  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Volleyball
  • Skateboarding
  • Wrestling
  • Track & Field
  • Cheerleading
  • Rowing

How to Choose the “Right” Sport for Your Child

  • Understand your child’s age, interests, and abilities, and seek compatible activities.
  • Pay attention to skills your child has mastered and those they continue to develop.
  • Consider enrolling your child in a variety of team sports (e.g., field hockey, lacrosse, softball) and individual sports (e.g., karate, fencing, dancing).
  • Discuss your child’s interests with them and plan together for their participation in the sports of their choice.
  • Monitor your child’s sports participation and take action if it becomes a negative experience.
  • Ensure your child is enjoying the game and not developing a “win at all costs” mentality.
  • Avoid coaches and sports environments that are hostile and/or abusive toward your child.

Is Your Child Not Interested in Organized Sports?

Your child may not be interested in organized sports; this is fine, and there are many ways they can become and stay physically fit and active. You may want to encourage your child to explore activities such as bicycling, jogging, hiking, riding bikes, yoga, exercising at the gym, or playing tag with family and friends. Many of these activities (e.g., jogging, hiking) can involve your child and one parent, a friend, or multiple family members.

Additional Resources

The United States Department of Health and Human Services developed the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition to provide information that helps families make healthy choices. The guidelines can be found here: https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

Nemours KidsHealth offers practical tips for families with children who are not interested in traditional sports at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/hate-sports.html

Find physical activity recommendations and resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm

Care.com offers sports and activity ideas for children of all ages. Find a list of activities in the following resources:

Related Blog Posts:

References

Anzilotti, A.W. (2019, February). Signing kids up for sports. Nemours KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/signing-sports.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, September 26). Developmental milestones matter.https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/features/developmental-milestones-matter.html

Healthychildren.org. (2019, October 8). Is your child ready for sports?https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sports/Pages/Is-Your-Child-Ready-for-Sports.

James, W.S. (2023, June 22). What is the best first sport for kids? Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/what-is-the-best-first-sport-for-kids.aspx

Stricker, P. R. (2019, October 7). Sports physiology. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sports/Pages/Sports-Physiology.aspx

Are you ready to Thrive?

2024 Thrive Educational Series - Session II

Choosing the Best Sports For Your Child

Rise and Dine