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When is my child ready for sports?

Children of all ages need physical activity. For many, playing organized sports (such as being part of a soccer team or taking gymnastics lessons) is a fun way to keep active. To get the most benefit out of any sport, children need certain basic skills. And some of these skills depend on a child’s age. If they’re not ready, children may get frustrated and not want to play at all.

What are the basic skills my child needs play organized sports? 

Learning skills like throwing, running and jumping is a normal process that children go through. They learn each skill in little bits, and some learn faster than others. By the time your child is between 3 and 5 years, he will have learned some of these basic skills. 

How do these skills affect my child’s ability to play organized sports? 

To play organized sports, children need to learn how to put these skills together (for example, how to run and throw at the same time). That doesn’t happen until your child is about 6 years old.

When your child is young, sports can be changed to make it easier for her to play. For example, you can:

  • use smaller equipment,
  • change roles or positions often, such as having the catcher become a fielder for a while,
  • make games and practices shorter, and
  • make the game fun so that your child wants to keep playing.

When should my child start to play in an organized sport?

Your child can start playing an organized sport when he has the skills he needs to play. Encourage your child to play sports he likes, but also encourage him to try different sports when possible. This will help him learn different skills.

How do I know if my child is ready to play a specific sport?

This chart may also be helpful. It shows the skills that children usually have at different ages and the sports they can start to play.

  Early childhood: 3 to 5 years old Middle childhood: 6 to 9 years old Late childhood: 10 to 12 years old Early teens: 13 to 15 years old Late teens: 16 to 18 years old
Motor skills (movement) Can run, jump, throw
Some balance
Basic skills (running, jumping, throwing) are getting better
Balance is improving
Starting to learn harder skills (for example throwing for distance)
Getting better at harder skills (such as kicking a ball into a net)
Learning some complicated skills (such as hitting a baseball)
Growth spurts; body becomes less flexible
Puberty occurs at different times

Skills are closer to an adult level
Vision Not mature
Hard to follow direction and speed of moving objects
Getting better at judging speed of moving objects but still has trouble judging direction of moving objects Fully developed (as good as that of an adult) Fully developed Fully developed
Learning Very short attention span
Learn best by copying others
Short attention span
find it hard to remember a lot of details and make fast decisions
Better attention
Better able to remember
Better attention span
Remembers plays and strategy
Good attention span
Good memory
Skills to focus on during this age period Learn basic skills
Having fun playing and trying different things is more important than competing
Practice basic skills and learn harder skills Practice skills
Learn tactics and game strategy
Individual strengths Individual strengths
Suggested activities Running, tumbling, throwing, catching, riding a tricycle Entry-level soccer and baseball, swimming, running, gymnastics, skating, dance, racquet sports such as tennis, riding a bicycle, noncontact martial arts Entry-level football, basketball and ice hockey Early-maturing boys: track and field, basketball, ice hockey
Late-maturing girls: gymnastics, skating

All sports depending on interest.



Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Healthy Active Living and Sports Medicine Committee

Last Updated: February 2012