Should Children Play Team Sports at a Young Age?

I decided to write this post because I personally know a couple people who couldn’t believe we put our sons in Soccer at a young age.  Both our boys started playing soccer when they were 5 years old.  Our soccer association actually has them playing as young as 4 years old but we waited until they were at least 5.  I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with children playing team sports at a young age.  I think this is one of those things that just boil down to personal choice and doing what’s best for your kids and family.  I have heard some parents give multiple reasons why they would be against it such as sports being too competitive for young kids or the chance of injury.

Of course there can always be a chance of injury with anything kids do.  Riding a bike, playing outside, climbing trees, even flying a kite.  Yep, that’s a true story. We were flying a kite one time and our youngest wanted to hold the kite so we gave him a turn with controlling it.  We got a huge breeze come through and it ended up pulling him and fell flat on his face.  He landed on a rock and bloodied his chin.  Nothing major.  Cleaned it up and slapped on a band-aide.  Now when it comes to the competitive nature and other concerns about team sports, you should of course consider if your child is ready to play a team sport and look into your local sport organization of how they do things.

Our older son got started with soccer because a friend of ours was going to coach soccer.  He was getting ready to go into Kindergarten and we thought it would be a good way for him to be around other kids (most of which he ended up going to school with) before he started school.  We didn’t just sign him up though.  We asked him if he wanted to and he said he did.  He was also playing with his cousin as well.  So we signed him up and by the time he started Kindergarten, he was more social with other kids than he used to be.  It made starting school a little easier for him.  Our younger son told us he wanted to play soccer on his own.  He would watch his brother play and would even go play with other kids at the soccer complex who was there because their siblings were playing.

Researching local sports organizations

According to some research out there, kids aren’t really developed in the way of attention span and physical skills until they are about 6 or 7 which was why we didn’t put our boys in soccer until they were at least 5.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t play sooner.  Before signing your child up (for whatever team sport they want to play) look into that particular sport association/organization to see if it’s a good fit for your child.  When they are pretty young, team sports should be more about learning the game, skills and having fun and not so much about the competitiveness about it.

That’s what I like about our soccer association.  At ages 4-6, they start in U6 soccer which is basically just learning simple skills.  Not using their hands, dribbling the ball, and which net they are scoring in.  Yes, they get distracted easy at that age.  Our soccer complex has a major road at the other end of it and we are kind of in town.  I don’t know how many times every single kid would just stop play and watch for a fire truck if they heard one and that’s okay.  They are just out there learning and having fun.  They don’t even keep score until they move up a few divisions.  

With our soccer association, the coaches are normally volunteers who are a parent(s) of one of the kids on the team.  They make sure they send coaches the rules and guidelines for their particular division.  It’s always age appropriate which we as parents appreciate.  They are really family oriented.  One season our older son had a make-up game because one of his games was rained out.  When we showed up, the other team did not so his coach called up the soccer people because he wasn’t sure what he should do, send everyone home and call the season (it was the last game) or if they would try to reschedule again.  They just suggested since we were already there to just play kids vs. parents.  That’s what the picture above is.  It was a lot of fun and the kids loved it!

There are a lot of benefits that come from playing youth team sports.

Physical development and exercise

This one is pretty self explanatory.  Stronger bones and muscles, aids in weight control and being active at a young age could possibly even help promote staying active as they grow.  Team sports can also build endurance and increase cardiovascular health.

Building character and boosts self esteem

They learn teamwork, responsibility and how to work with others to achieve the same goals.  They can also learn about leadership and helping their teammates. All of this is something that can be applied with anything – not just on the field.  These are important things to learn in any aspect of their life.  Building self esteem builds their self worth, how they feel about themselves, and making themselves feel and be more confident in what they are doing.  Which is something else they need in every aspect of their lives.

Teaches critical thinking and teamwork skills

Learning the dynamics of a team, learning what works best for the team, learning that it takes a whole team and not just one player or individual to do all the work.  Even when they are waiting their turn off the field to get back in, they are still working with their team on the sidelines.  Paying attention to the game and cheering their teammates on.  They learn the strengths and weakness of the team and figure out how to overcome them and learn to work on strategies.  

Builds social and communication skills

Learning to work with a group of peers helps to build relationships.  They have to learn how to communicate with each other on the field.  A lot of times as a team works together, plays together, cheers and supports each other, they build close friendships.  I have seen this happen with both of our boys.  Most of their closest buddies are from their soccer teams.  

Mentoring and support of other adults

Of course the biggest mentors for our children are usually mom and dad.  But it’s always good for kids to have other mentors and support from other adults. Their coaches can be someone who they can also look up to.  Someone who teaches them and someone who they can count on and look to for advice.  There’s something about having support from other adults such as coaches and other parents.  It gives children a chance to learn how to communicate and trust other adults.  They are surrounded by other adults at school and there will be plenty of adults in their life all the way through their adolescence. 

Healthy competition

When they start to get older, there will be more competition.  There’s no way around it.  They may not start out that way but eventually it will get there.  But sports aren’t the only areas where there is competition.  They will face some sort of competition in school, in the personal lives, or even in the workplace when they get older.  Healthy competition is a good thing and teaches them about good sportsmanship.

There are a few things we have to remember as parents when our boys are playing sports.  Being a positive pusher is a good thing.  We want to be able to push them to practice hard and to get better.  In an encouraging way.  They love playing soccer and we want them to keep wanting to do what they enjoy doing.  It’s like pushing your kids to get those good grades and achieving in school.  We have to make sure we keep the positive balance while pushing them because the last thing we ever want to do is be those overbearing parents and start pushing in a negative way.

Our older son wanted to sit Spring season this time around.  No big deal for us.  We let that be his decision.  He says he wanted to take a break and work on some things before he plays again in the Fall.  Our younger son moved up a division so now things are a little tougher.  It’s more because there are new things he is learning.  He’s playing with some older kids now and there are more rules that he has to learn now.  Plus he’s also on the big field now.  He has been getting frustrated and at times he feels like giving up.

With that being said, we also don’t force them to play but we also don’t let them quit.  We are a strong believer in teaching them that when they commit to something, they have to stick to it.  He is now on a team and we don’t want him to think he can just let them down because things seem a little harder for him now.  This is where the positive pushing helps because we don’t want him to give up because things can be difficult.  We sat down and had a talk with him about it and we also talked with his coach about it as well.  We have all been helping him through it as he is one of the youngest on the team.  We have been working with him on some things at home on our own too.  If at the end of the season he still doesn’t like it and chooses not to play the next season, we will ultimately leave that up to him.  But I think once he gets further into the season, he will be just fine because he loves playing soccer.

Bottom line about children playing youth sports at a young age – there are no right or wrong answers.  Yes, there are benefits from playing but it’s a personal choice whether parents want them to play or not.  And if a child does play, ultimately it should be their choice as to how far they go with it. 

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