Children and sports: Choices for all ages

Children's sports promote fitness, but not all children thrive in formal leagues. Help your child find the right sport and venue — school, recreation center or backyard. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Want to give your child a head start on lifelong fitness? Consider children's sports and other kid-friendly physical activities.

With your encouragement and support, chances are a few sports will spark your child's interest. Fan the flame by taking your child to local sporting events and sharing your own sports interests with your child.

Consider age-appropriate activities

Your child is likely to show natural preferences for certain sports or activities. Start there, being careful to keep your child's age, maturity and abilities in mind.

Ages 2 to 5
Toddlers and preschoolers are beginning to master many basic movements, but they're too young for most organized sports. Keep in mind that toddlers who participate in organized sports also typically don't gain any long-term advantage in terms of future sports performance.

At this age, unstructured free play is usually best. Try:

  • Running
  • Tumbling
  • Throwing
  • Catching
  • Swimming

Ages 6 to 9
As children get older, their vision, attention spans and transitional skills, such as throwing for distance, improve. They're also better able to follow directions.

Consider organized activities such as:

  • T-ball, softball or baseball
  • Running
  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Martial arts

Carefully supervised strength training is OK at age 7 or 8, too.

Ages 10 to 12
By this age, children have mature vision and the ability to understand and recall sports strategies. These children are typically ready to take on complex skill sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and volleyball. Keep in mind, however, that growth spurts caused by puberty can temporarily affect a child's coordination and balance.

Contact sports

Before allowing your child to participate in a contact sport, consider his or her age, maturity, and physical size. Are the physical contact, aggressiveness and competition involved developmentally appropriate for your child? Will your child enjoy it? Because children enter puberty at different ages, there can be dramatic physical differences among children of the same sex — particularly boys. Children competing against others who are more physically mature might be at increased risk of injury.

Aug. 07, 2013 See more In-depth