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Great Exercise for Kids
In part one of the “Organized Sports and Children” series, we looked at the benefits of organized sports as a type of exercise for kids. Providing a variety of physical and mental benefits for children, these can play an incredibly beneficial role in a child’s development.
But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, organized sports are beneficial to a child only when the child is ready to participate. The child’s age and motor skills are important factors to consider. Part two of the “Organized Sports and Children” series will look at how parents can evaluate their child’s readiness for participation.
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Children’s Age Guidelines
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, organized sports are a beneficial type of exercise for kids only for children who are ready for the demands and expectations that come along with structured sports. If the demands exceed a child’s current level of maturation, participation can actually be harmful to a child.
In their 2007 policy on organized sports and children, the AAP cites concern for programs tailored towards preadolescents. Parents are beginning to start their kids in at earlier ages, but the younger a child is, the more risks associated with his participation in organized sports.
A child must have both the cognitive and physical abilities required to participate. They must be ready to learn and understand the rules of the game as well as have the physical ability to kick, throw, or hit a ball. Expecting a child to develop these skills before he’s ready can lead to feelings of failure and frustration.
Many parents expect that a coach will be able to determine their child’s ability and teach the child appropriately. However, most coaches are community volunteers without child development training and are not qualified to make that determination.
Even when a coach is appropriately credentialed to teach youth sports, that doesn’t mean your child will necessarily benefit. Children who are too young to learn organized sports won’t develop the motor skills they need to participate just because they are exposed to them earlier.
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How to Determine Your Child's Readiness
The best exercise for kids is an exercise that they feel is fun. When it comes to sports and children, the best activity for your child will be one that he chooses for himself. Parents can help their children determine which sports they enjoy by exploring a variety of sport activities together.
Spend time trying different recreational and sport activities with your child. Don’t limit exposure to just one sport you wish your child would try: allow him to have many different experiences. Make this playtime fun and encourage exploration with your family participation.
Watch your child during this family play time and evaluate if he’s got the motor skills needed to participate in the game and whether or not he understands how the game is played. The AAP recommends consulting the family pediatrician for further advice on whether or not your child is developmentally ready for organized sports. You may also seek a pediatrician’s recommendation on choosing a sport that matches your child’s physical and social maturation.
If your child gravitates towards one particular sport, check out the programs available in your area. But note that if your child could not actively participate in the sport exploration process, he or she probably isn’t ready for a commitment to organized sports.