FROM THE NYU CHILD STUDY CENTER: ASK THE EXPERT
Sports: Getting a Good Start
Kids are getting involved in sports earlier than ever—some even begin a competitive sport by the age of 3 or 4. But sports are one area where the “earlier the better” doesn’t hold true. Contrary to popular belief most professional athletes did not start at a very young age. To avoid injury, kids should start when they’re physically ready. Growing bones can’t handle the same stresses as older bones. Depending on the demands of the specific sport, the child must have acquired the necessary strength and coordination to participate. For example, a six-year-old child who has learned to ice skate has not yet developed the more complex coordination necessary to proceed to ice dancing.
How parents can help:
Introduce your child to a sport appropriate for her age and interests. Toddlers don’t need much encouragement to move around. They love to dance with music and play simple interactive games. They can be encouraged to play catch, throw, and kick large balls and to play games like find a hidden object and hide-and-seek.
For preschoolers, don’t focus on rules, keeping score or competition. They aren’t developmentally ready to learn sports skills. They should be involved in exploration and simple motor activities. Just keep them moving and don’t focus on organized games. Get the child using her body and moving—running, kicking, throwing, catching, jumping—and equipment should be easy to handle, such as large soccer balls, whiffle balls, junior-sized basketballs. However, even with young children, simple skill building can be encouraged. For example, although a young child isn’t ready to learn control of a ball, he can be taught basic pre-skills such as keeping track of the direction of the ball, kicking the ball to a certain spot, etc. Parents should also keep in mind that organized sports participation should not begin until age six, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Until that time unstructured play is recommended.
School age children enjoy games with rules. Work on developing skills, teamwork and encourage them to try different sports. Avoid early specialization and too much play. Sports specialists believe that competitive sports should not begin until 8 years of age. Parents should be sure that their child’s sports program and equipment are safe and age-appropriate. Avoid organized programs that focus on winning at the expense of having fun and improving skills.
Consider your child’s natural physical and personal strengths when helping him choose a sport. For example, some children prefer working alone, so a sport like running, tennis, or ice-skating rather than team sports such as baseball or hockey would be advisable.
The benefits of sports are considerable in terms of physical health and social growth, so it’s the responsibility of parents, schools and others involved in the lives of kids to help make sports a successful and pleasurable experience. #
This column provides educators, parents, and families, important information on child and adolescent mental health issues. If you have a question or would like to suggest a topic for an upcoming article, contact Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and Medical Director of the NYU Child Study Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. The NYU Child Study Center is dedicated to advancing the field of mental health for children and their families through evidence-based practice, science, and education. Our internationally renowned clinical faculty of board certified child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists have expertise in many of areas including: ADHD, anxiety disorders, childhood and adolescent depression, Tourettes, PTSD and learning differences and treatments including pediatric psychopharmacology and cognitive behavioral therapy. For more information on the NYU Child Study Center, visit www.AboutOurKids.org #