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Youth Sports

Exercise and Fitness for Kids

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Updated October 15, 2007

Although poor eating habits get a lot of the blame for the rise in childhood obesity, another very big factor is that kids just aren't as active as they used to be.

Unfortunately, the focus for many people on battling childhood obesity is only on improving nutrition, like making school lunches more nutritious and taking soda out of schools, but doesn't do enough to actually get kids more active.

As with improving their child's eating habits, parents can have an important role in helping their kids more physically active.

In addition to more physically active, unorganized free play, getting involved in youth sports, such as soccer, baseball, and gymnastics, etc., can be a good way to encourage kids to be active.

How Young Is Too Young For Sports?

Since most youth sports programs for young children are very noncompetitive and are just about getting kids to be active and learning some basic rules, even older toddlers and preschoolers can play some sports. In fact, many communities now have programs like Soccer Tots for toddlers who are 20 months and older.

Depending on where you live, you might also find:

  • Gymnastics - gymnastics programs are available for kids at almost any age, even infants and toddlers, like at The Little Gym, and get more physically demanding as your child gets older
  • Swimming - although the AAP doesn't recommend formal swimming lessons until children are 4 years old, an introduction to the water type Aquatics program is okay for toddlers if they are well supervised
  • Flag Football - typically age 4 and above
  • T-ball - typically age 4 to 7
  • Soccer - the YMCA has a Small Fry Soccer program for preschoolers over age 3
Your local YMCA and their Youth Super Sports program is a good place to look for noncompetitive sports for younger kids. You might also find a youth sports program through your city, a private association, or a larger church in your area. Keep in mind that youth sports that are run by private associations tend to be more competitive than the YMCA, church groups, and most city leagues.

Benefits of Starting Sports Early

Although some parents try to avoid youth sports until their kids are older, like 9 or 10 years old, because they want to avoid what they think is a competitive environment for their younger children, it is important to remember that most youth sports for younger kids are noncompetitive.

Of course, you could have your 7 year old tryout for a tournament baseball team that travels from state to state with the goal of going to the Little League World Series or a football team that practices 4 days a week, and they would both likely be ultra-competitive. But you could just as easily join a team at the YMCA that doesn't have tryouts and doesn't keep score.

Some benefits of starting sports early, in addition to teaching responsibility, teamwork, and commitment, etc., include:

  • avoiding childhood obesity
  • encouraging a healthy lifestyle and continued physical activity as they get older
  • building motor skills
  • making new friends
  • less time to watch TV
And if your child starts playing sports early, he or she can play a variety of sports, or all of them, and get a better idea of which one they like best.

Team Sports vs Individual Sports

In addition to differences in motor skills and how well they play sports, kids can have very different personalities and temperaments. Some are outgoing and competitive and love to play team sports, like soccer, basketball, and baseball, while others are overwhelmed with the idea of being on the field with a large group of kids.

If your child isn't interested in team sports, that doesn't mean that he can't be active. There are many individual sports that might be a better fit, including:

  • swimming
  • gymnastics
  • wrestling
  • tennis
  • golf
  • martial arts
  • track and field
  • dance
Keep in mind that some kids don't like team sports simply because they had a bad experience with one sport, team, or coach, and you might give another team or sport a chance or join a new team with a close friend so that he feels more comfortable.

Helping a Late Bloomer

Some children don't like sports because they just aren't as good as the other kids on the team. Especially for younger kids, there can be sharp differences in their abilities and developmental levels, but instead of giving up on sports, it can be a good idea to get your child some extra help so he can catch up. This can include gymnastics classes to improve general motor skills, enrolling in a skill and fitness program to help develop your child's athletic skills, extra practice at home, or getting some lessons in the specific sport you are playing.

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