It didn't take long for my son to find his bliss. At 2, Eric loved taking swimming classes. By 3, when I gave him the choice of going to the pool or playing at the park the water always won. By his fourth birthday he could swim basic freestyle and rudimentary butterfly. Eric is 8 now and he's still at it -- the first one in the pool at the start of team practice and the last one out at the end. Not only does swimming bring him joy and keep him fit, but his teammates are also his best buds, and he's learned how to win (and lose) with dignity.
Like Eric, many children today are introduced to a variety of sports before they learn to read. A few years ago, he tried different sports (soccer, baseball, basketball) at day camp and in casual classes. Swimming simply rose to the top over the others, although he also enjoys tennis and golf when it's not swim season. He's right on schedule, say experts, who agree that 7- and 8-year-olds often take it to the next level by joining a team and developing a steady passion for organized sports.
"Loving a sport will teach children vital life skills -- discipline, motivation, commitment, and cooperation," says Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist in Cedarhurst, New York. However there are some potential rough patches to work through -- from choosing the right sport, to finding a nurturing team and supportive coach, to learning to watch from the sidelines without making your kid anxious. We've amassed a playbook of strategies to help kids get in the game and thrive -- win, lose, or draw.