Children & Sports

Tips to give your child a sporting chance to play ball!

Your 4-year-old gravitates to gymnastics, your 8-year-old is smitten with soccer and your 11-year-old is fascinated by football. Encourage them to play! But do so with caution. Not every sport is appropriate for every age, so it’s important to select one that is safe and suited to your child.

Finding the fit

In fact, 50 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls between ages 8 and 16 play organized sports, yet 70 percent of them drop out by age 13. Why? Because they become discouraged with a game that is inappropriate and frustrating. “Sports need to be fun and well-supervised,” says Barbara Long, MD, a pediatrician at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh who has a specialization in sports medicine.“Don’t expect 6- or 8-year-olds to play organized games. Ever see 8-year-olds play soccer? It’s ‘herd football.’ The kids just follow the ball around. They aren’t yet at a level to strategize team plays.”

Be aware of coordination requirements.“If your young child is discouraged because she can’t set up or return a volleyball, look for another activity or noncompetitive team,” Dr. Long says. Consider these sports and the coordination and skills needed:

  • Baseball: Children begin to learn to toss and catch the ball between 3–5, but don’t consider it as a team sport until between 5–9. Baseball doesn’t require much endurance, but it requires moderate strength and hand/eye coordination.
  • Basketball: This sport is okay as a social game, but kids under age 11 usually can’t hit the high basket. Basketball requires good endurance and a high skill level.
  • Football: Contact football generally is not dangerous because the children’s light weights don’t generate a lot of force during collisions. Kids need some endurance, moderate strength, speed and appropriate hand/eye coordination. Football is a complex set of skills and kids may not be ready for organized teams until at least 10.
  • Soccer: Children begin to learn to kick the ball between 3–5. They need good endurance and should learn the basic skills of kicking and dribbling before starting organized competition.

Make safety a priority

In all sports with pre-adolescent children, the emphasis should be placed on having fun and building skills rather than competition. Before puberty, it’s okay for boys and girls to compete against one another, but adolescence is time for gender separation. This is when the gap between weight and strength widens, making coed sports more dangerous.

Get to know the coaches. Both parents and coaches need to make sure that the activity is developmentally appropriate, allows all children to participate, builds skills and is fun. This will help your child succeed on and off the field.

A sports physical is a good idea to ensure your child is physically able to play. The doctor will check the heart and lungs, examine the musculoskeletal system and can provide information about age-appropriate activities.

If you need help finding a physician for your child, call 412-692-7337.