Team Players

By Alexa Sherman

From the moment my son could grasp an object, his dad and I put plastic golf clubs in his hands and encouraged him with “Great throw!” when he tossed something at our heads particularly well (bonus points if it was a ball and not his food). He’s now almost 3, and we’re considering buying a toy basketball hoop, teaching him to play tennis…or is it time for tee ball or soccer already?

We’re not crazed sports fans, but you don’t have to be an athlete to realize the benefits of playing organized sports. “No activity can simultaneously contribute to a child’s physical, emotional and social development the way sports can, ” says John Engh, chief operating officer of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Many of the skills learned on the field— discipline, teamwork, pride, humility and overcoming adversity—can be applied to everyday life.” But if you’re gathering up the gear and heading for the door, hold on! Introducing children to organized sports requires planning and perspective. Here’s our step-by-step guide.

Explore the options.
Most children can start playing organized sports as early as age 4—and you’ll have probably exposed your little one to some of the options well before then. Playing catch, watching a pro team or passing by a park during a sporting event can all pique a child’s interest.

When you’re ready to explore opportunities, check with your local department of recreation and parks, YMCA or Boys & Girls Club to fi nd teams for your child’s age. Then go check them out together. Talk to the other parents, see how the kids play together and how the coaches act. Most importantly, expose your child to options galore. “Consider team and individual sports; each provides distinct benefits,” adds Engh. Investigate soccer, tee ball, basketball, golf, tennis and swimming.