Learn essential info about your child's sports activities.

By Karin A. Bilich
October 03, 2005

Playing sports at an early age offers many physical and psychological benefits, including long-term health, personal satisfaction, and social acceptance. Even though parents know the importance of physical activity, many have concerns and reservations. Here are six commonly asked questions about kids' involvement in organized sports:

At what age is it appropriate for my child to join team sports?

It's a good idea to wait until your child is 6 years old before beginning team sports, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition to age, parents should consider weight, size, and emotional development. Allow your child to participate in making the decision; she shouldn't be pushed into a sport that she isn't physically or emotionally ready to handle. On the other hand, if she has a strong interest in a sport, then it may be reasonable to allow her to get involved earlier than age 6.

How should I choose which sport to get my child involved in?

The Mayo Clinic suggests that you consider the following factors in deciding on a sport:

  • The level of your child's physical and psychological maturity
  • How much emphasis is placed on performance
  • Quality of the program and coaching
  • Spectator behavior
  • Risk of injury
  • Necessary equipment and its cost

Is it all right for boys and girls to play on the same team? Is there a certain age at which it's no longer okay?

Before puberty, boys and girls are equivalent in size and weight, so there's no reason why they shouldn't play together. After puberty, boys gain an advantage in both strength and size. The AAP recommends that safety and fairness dictate that boys and girls over 12 years of age should no longer compete against each other.

What is the likelihood that my child will suffer an injury while playing sports? What can I do to prevent it?

There are risks of injury involved with every physical activity. But safety measures, such as protective padding and helmets, will greatly reduce that risk. You should urge your child to take personal responsibility for the use of his equipment. Warm-ups, plenty of fluids, and adequate supervision will also help prevent injury. Remember that the majority of sports injuries are minor -- mostly sprains and strains.

The chance of injury also depends on the degree of contact in a sport. The American Medical Association notes that football can lead to the most serious injuries, with soccer and basketball providing moderate risk. Activities such as gymnastics and track rarely lead to serious injury.

How do I prevent pressure to win from becoming a stress for my child?

It's a good idea to measure your child's performance by effort and personal goals. Point out positive aspects of her play and reward her for trying hard, regardless of the outcome. "Get excited about almost everything that happens. Find something to encourage in your child," says Donald Shifrin, MD, FAAP, a practicing pediatrician, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, and cochair of the Healthy Kids Editorial Advisory Board.

But pressure to win isn't solely a bad thing. It can provide the skills for coping with difficult situations that will last for life.

What if my child tells me he wants to quit playing?

Start by gathering information. There are many reasons why a child may decide to stop playing. Find out if his quitting is caused by inadequacy, stress, frustration, or not getting along with teammates. While you should take his feelings seriously, you may want to encourage him to "stick it out," a skill that will be helpful for the rest of his life.

However, if you decide the experience is triggering more negativity than growth, consider allowing him to change sports or quit altogether. "If it appears as though your child is not having fun, consider an activity that's a little easier or more suited to your child's temperament and capabilities," says Shifrin, "And let's face it: Not every child wants to grow up to be a professional baseball player."

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns.

Healthy Kid