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Should Toddlers Play Sports? The Answer May Surprise You
Does your kid love running around and tumbling? Is your toddler obsessed with catching, hitting, and throwing balls? If so, you may be thinking it’s time to start them in a class or join a team.
After all, physical activity encourages mental and emotional development. Sports are also great for socialization and practicing fine and gross motor skills.
But are toddlers really ready for sports? The answer, in most cases, is no.
“Before age 6 years, most children do not have the basic motor skills for organized sports,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Here’s everything we know about sports for kids.
Are toddlers ready for sports?
Most toddlers are simply not ready for organized sports. They don’t have the patience, focus, or physical development needed to positively engage in team sports. As anyone who has met a toddler knows, their temperament may be a challenge. Emotionally, kids younger than 3 (and even those older) struggle with loss. They also need guidance and practice on teamwork and taking turns. They’re still developing motor skills and coordination. Following multi-step instructions or complicated rules might be beyond their abilities. In addition, their bodies are not fully developed. Their bones are still soft. They are also quite small, and this can be problematic if and when an injury occurs, as standard orthopedic devices don’t typically fit small children, note the experts at Children’s Healthcare of Florida.
But that’s not all: Starting sports too early might create negative associations. When children begin playing sports at a young age, they sometimes develop a disdain for the activity. It feels like a chore.
So does all this mean that you should discourage your athletic toddler from their running, jumping, and throwing? Not at all! While team sports aren’t yet a fit, free play is a great way to encourage your little one’s athleticism.
What athletic skills are important for toddlers?
While toddlers may not be ready for organized sports, there are activities they can participate in. Young children should be encouraged to play, openly and freely — as open-ended play encourages social and emotional development. It also promotes personal growth. Toddlers should be active because the more children run and jump and play the healthier they are, and they should engage in activities that help fine-tune their motor skills. “Athletic skills such as running, kicking a ball, and throwing a ball can be introduced with a wide variability of success depending on the individual toddler’s developmental state,” Carlos Uquillas, a pediatric sports medicine specialist and pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California, explains.
Physical activities to consider for toddlers include, but are not limited to:
- bike or trike riding
- climbing play equipment
Of course, caregiver supervision during these activities is always important, as is using a helmet and other protective gear when biking or trike riding.
What are the benefits of sports for kids?
When children come of age — when they are 6 or older — there are numerous benefits to playing sports and participating in organized group activities. Kids who play sports tend to do better socially. According to an AAP policy statement, “participation in organized sports is strongly associated with a positive social self-concept” and a child’s ability to bond with their peers. Kids who participate in sports do better academically. Numerous studies have shown positive associations between playing sports in high school and success in the classroom.
Physical activity helps strengthen your bones and heart and encourages better sleep. It also has a positive impact on your mental health. Sports also help children develop emotionally. Learning to navigate teamwork, loss, and other challenges expose them to challenges in a safe and supportive environment.
In addition, the AAP points out that “teenagers participating in organized sports report fewer mental health problems and have lower odds of emotional distress compared with peers.”
What should you keep in mind when choosing sports for kids?
While there are numerous factors to keep in mind when choosing sports or group activity, the main thing you should consider is whether your child wants to participate in said activity. If the answer is no, you may want to reassess the situation. Forcing a child to participate in a sport could lead to challenges between you and your child. It may cause undue frustration, and your little one may become resentful because they aren’t happy or “having fun.” If your child wants to play sports, you should encourage them to do so in a safe and healthy way. This can be done by keeping the following things in mind.
Keep things simple
When introducing young children to sports, it’s best to keep things simple. Elementary school-aged children can and should learn the essentials — and only the essentials. This means finding teams or organizations that work on skill-building and basics. Coaches should also prioritize giving kids a chance to try out different positions and roles on the team. This also means sampling a variety of sports instead of encouraging a young child to specialize in. Kids who focus on one sport very early run the risk of early burnout. The risk of long-term injuries is also increased exponentially due to excessive exertion and overuse in specific areas. So instead of following a season of baseball with more baseball, change it up. Let your kids try soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, or dance.
Playing team sports involves turn-taking, rule-following, focusing, and in some cases sharing, and this can be frustrating, particularly to young children. The best way to help them through these moments is to be cool, calm and collected. A little patience goes a long way.
In addition to being patient, you’ll want to be positive. “Coaches, parents, and teachers should create a positive and uplifting environment that has age-appropriate expectations,” The reason? “Environments with intense competitiveness and intimidation can have negative effects and create low self-esteem and anxiety.” So be encouraging, reassuring, and supportive — no matter what.
And stay away from competition
While competition teams can be enjoyable, young children should avoid “competing.” In fact, the AAP recommends children under 12 focus on having fun — and only having fun.
While there are numerous benefits to playing organized sports, there are also real risks, especially if you enroll your child when they’re too young. Consult with your child’s pediatrician before enrolling them in any activity. Discuss the appropriateness of said activity for their age, and consider the when and the why before signing them up. Talk to your child as well. In many cases, weekly visits to the park to play, run, and kick the ball with you or their friends are just as much fun for them and allows them to gain skills while having a good time.
Health Benefits of Sports for Kids
There are several benefits of playing sports for kids, such as having a healthier life, gaining more academic integrity, improving medical fitness, etc. Allowing children to participate in outdoor extracurricular activities, such as sports, helps them explore and develop skills which are considered beneficial throughout their lives. By participating in sports, children are exposed to various mental, social, emotional, physical and educational benefits.
Some of these benefits are:
Several studies have suggested that taking part in a sport can help in the development of your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Gestures such as a high-five from a teammate, a pat on the back, or a handshake, when a match is over, helps build confidence. Also, words of praise or of encouragement from the coach or players help build self-esteem. This also helps them learn to trust their own abilities and push themselves in their pursuits. However, one thing that should be remembered is that their self-esteem should not be distinguished based on winning or losing. Constructive criticism should be a major part in helping children learn about accepting their weaknesses and working on them to improve themselves. To do this you could encourage your child to play sports, and always ask them whether they enjoyed it or not, rather than whether they won or lost.
Playing a sport helps children develop social skills which would benefit them even when they grow older. Playing sports teaches them about teamwork and cooperating with others. They learn to interact with people from different ages. Also, joining a sports team helps give children a sense of belonging and gives them an opportunity to make friends. With more friendship circles it would help improve their communication skills, which will help them in their future careers and relationships.
Accept Defeat at Times
In most of the things you do in life, there will be a winner and a loser. Through sports your child can learn sportsmanship. They can learn how to accept and cope with losses rather than feeling completely defeated. You cannot win them all, and through sports, your child can understand that sometimes it’s okay if you lose. The important part is to get back up and try again.
There’s no harm in being competitive, but if you lose you should show good sportsmanship and accept defeat. No one likes to be around a sore loser who doesn’t respect the rules, and this brings us to the next point.
Any sport requires the athletes to maintain discipline. This discipline could be mental, physical, or tactical. To become better in any sport you require discipline. Without self-restraint it would be hard to succeed in any sport. Discipline helps the player achieve their goals and also reach their fullest potential.
In sports your child would need to follow a set of rules, take orders and accept decisions made by the coach. Good discipline is appreciated in sports, as there are penalizations for bad discipline. By listening to the coach and peers, your child would learn an important life skill which would help him throughout their career and life.
There’s No I in Team
Teamwork is a necessary skill to learn from an early age. A team cannot succeed unless they work together. Sports provide children with the important lesson of learning how to work in a team. Everyone has to come together to achieve the goal. By working together they will learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and will be better able to decide and strategize the best plan for the team. This will without a doubt help them in their future lives and careers as well.
There are various benefits of sports for your child. This list is not exhaustive. There are several other benefits such as a healthier living, more academic integrity, medical fitness, etc. All of these benefits just goes to show how much a child can learn outside the classroom as well. However, to get your child to play a sport you may need to encourage them. You can help your child become active in sports in several ways:
- You could be physically active in sports yourself. This would help them as you are leading by example.
- Support your child’s efforts in sports. Try to be there for every match that your child plays, for encouragement.
- Try to limit the time spent on sedentary activities such as watching television or playing computer games.
- Play a sport along with your child.
So why wait any longer? Get your child enrolled in a sport which they want to learn. While you’re at it, you should try learning it as well! Our providers are always available if you have any questions about your child’s physical ability and the health benefits of exercise for children.
Choosing a Pediatrician for Your New Baby
Congratulations you’re Pregnant!
From the day you learn you’re pregnant, you make decisions that last your child’s lifetime — like the name you choose for your baby. To give your newborn the healthiest possible start, you’ll want to find a pediatrician to care for your child from their first wellness visit through the teen years. Here are tips on how to find that doctor.
When Should I Start Looking for a Pediatrician?
It’s a good idea to start looking for a doctor about 3 months before your baby is due. Ask for recommendations from relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and doctors you know. Then, check your insurance company’s website to see if the doctors are in your plan. If you’re new to an area, start by searching for pediatricians on your insurance company’s website or try the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Find a Pediatrician tool.
Look at online reviews and ratings, but proceed with caution. Like all online sites, the reviewers’ opinions and expectations may differ from yours. Make sure the review site only allows feedback from actual patients.
Of course, doctors aren’t the only people in a pediatrics office who care for children. Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) also see young patients. They are trained to give shots, check kids for health problems, prescribe medicines — and do many of the things doctors can do.
Pediatrician or Family Physician: What’s the Difference?
Most pediatricians and the nurses and physician assistants in their practices see children and teens up to age 21. Pediatric training focuses on treating children from birth until adulthood. Family physicians take care of patients of all ages, from kids to seniors. Both have the same years of training, but pediatricians specialize in children. This give them in-depth understanding of children’s health needs, like behavioral issues and how to care for a child’s growing, developing body.
MD or DO: What’s the Difference?
Pediatricians can graduate from medical school with either an MD (doctor of medicine) or a DO (doctor of osteopathy) degree. Both degrees train doctors to diagnose and treat diseases — and to try to prevent them when possible. Programs for DOs usually focus on a holistic (“whole body”) approach to medicine. MDs study medicine in the traditional way. All MDs and DOs must complete a residency — supervised hands-on training — before they are licensed to practice medicine. Choosing a DO or MD is up to you. Both are equally qualified. But you do want to make sure that your child’s pediatrician is board certified.
What Does “Board Certified” Mean?
At the end of their residency, doctors can take exams to be “board certified” in their field — in general pediatrics, for example, or in a pediatric specialty like orthopedics. These exams are set by the governing body in a field of medicine, like the AAP, and they’re not easy to pass.
Interviewing Pediatricians: What Should I Ask?
Most pediatricians’ offices set aside times for expectant parents to visit. Call the office to set up an appointment. During your “meet and greet,” you can tour the office and talk with a doctor or nurse.
Some doctors offer group classes for expectant parents to learn about the practice and discuss newborn care. Others offer one-on-one interviews. Many insurance companies encourage these prenatal appointments or classes and will cover their cost. But check first with the doctor’s office and your health plan.
Here are some things to consider as you decide if the practice is right for your family. Make a list of your questions to help you organize your thoughts:
- What are the office hours? Make sure the schedule works for you. For example, you may prefer a doctor who offers weekend and evening hours.
- Does the doctor work alone, or as part of a group? If it’s a solo practice, how will your child get care when your doctor is not available? If it’s a group practice, who will see your child if your doctor is not available?
- Is the doctor affiliated with a pediatric hospital if there’s one in your area?
- How does the office handle phone calls?
- During office hours — Can you call in with questions for your doctor at fixed times? Many pediatric practices have a nurse on hand to answer questions.
- After hours — If you leave a message with the answering service, how quickly will you get a call back, either from a doctor or a nurse? Does the practice offer telemedicine where you can video visit with a pediatrician or nurse?
- Can you email your doctor? Does the practice use electronic medical records to make it easier to share your child’s health information? Does the practice let you view your child’s test results and get health information online?
- If your child has an emergency, will the doctor handle it, or will your child be referred to an emergency room or urgent care center?
- How much do services cost? Must you pay in full at the time of the visit, or can you pay over time?
- If other care is needed, how does the practice decide whether to refer your child to a specialist?
- What are the office’s vaccination policies? Are all patients required to be vaccinated on the immunization schedule of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?
- If you haven’t yet had your baby, will your doctor come to the hospital when you deliver to examine your newborn?
Besides allowing you to ask questions like these, your visit is a great time to see how the office runs. Is the waiting area clean and child-friendly? Is the staff polite and helpful to patients in the waiting room and to people on the phone? While you’re waiting, talk to the other parents. Ask them what they like best about the practice and why they feel good about the care the doctor provides.
Is This Doctor a Good Fit for Me?
After you’ve had a chance to talk with the doctor and other members of the care team, do you feel you will work well together? Is the doctor willing to explain things carefully? Does the doctor seem to be a good listener? Will you be comfortable asking questions? Do you think the doctor would mind if you wanted to get a second opinion?
Do you and your doctor share beliefs about issues that are important to you? For example, how does the doctor feel about circumcision? Breastfeeding? Alternative or integrative medicines or techniques? Use of antibiotics and other medicines? Remember that the doctor may be seeing your child for years to come.
Keep your notes about the doctors you didn’t select. If your insurance changes, you may find yourself looking for a new doctor. Or it may take a while to find a doctor you’re happy with. Choosing a health care provider before your baby is born will help you feel confident about your baby’s care. Knowing you have chosen the right doctor will help you feel calmer and more in control.
We at pediatric Associates of Jacksonville are always avaiable to answer any questions and invite you to meet and interview our physicians, Give us a call or email us with any questions you might have.