My Kid is Athletic. Now What?

Oh, the world of kids’ sports! 

Because organized sports are so accessible to all ages now, parents are always in a quandary on what to do.  When to start?  How much to do?  How to fit it into their schedules?  And of course, they don’t want to miss out on that golden opportunity for a college scholarship or even the Olympics.

While raising two daughters, I went through the world of competitive swimming and softball, so this is my take on the world of sports for kids.


When to start?  When they are old enough to actually do the sport! 


Varied degrees of mental and physical coordination are required to even minimally accomplish a sport and these abilities occur at different ages for different sports.  So, my opinion is that you don’t really need to start a sport until you actually have the ability to do it.  Prior to that, it is just paying for child’s play.  There is nothing harmful in that.  It’s just that raising children is a long haul, so when it comes to sports, you may want to save some energy and money for the future. 


Kids don’t need to do gymnastics at 4, dance at 3, ice hockey at 5 or football at 7.  Football is one of the last to develop.  Just look at high school players.  They are very much still in development, whereas swimmers have usually mastered their strokes and technique by high school age. 


In checking the Internet, it tells you how Olympians started at 4 or world soccer players started at 3.  But those are just anecdotes; it’s not required.  Kids can start anytime and as they develop more, coordination wise, the learning curve is much shorter and they catch up, with a much better sense of self, I believe.


For example, if your child exhibits coordination and interest, I would start competitive swimming at 7 or 8, softball or baseball in third grade, ice hockey at 8, soccer at 7 and football at maybe 10 or 11.  Now, where to go with that sport is another question and I say,


Go with your gut reaction.  But don’t make it about you.


I started my oldest daughter in swimming at 7 after she had completed all the Red Cross swimming lessons she could and learned a rudimentary freestyle and backstroke.  I knew this child was going to do well academically, so I was looking for something to balance that.  She also had a best friend whose older sister was a swimmer so they both had a mentor, so to speak.  I’ll never forget the first day of practice.  Jacqueline walked sheepishly onto the pool deck.  But, not 5 minutes later, in walked her friend, Jessica and they were off!  They stayed a team for years in swimming. 


We started on a fun summer swim team and graduated to a small, low pressure YMCA winter team.  Along came daughter #2, and since we were already going to the pool, I signed her up at 6, although that is really too young.  It worked out great because they had an under 6 six age group with no disqualifications (called DQ’s), so she won blue ribbons all winter just making it from one end to the other!  That was a confidence booster.  It was after a few years that the choices became harder. 


They both wanted to move up to a larger and more competitive YWCA team and enter the world of USAA swimming.  This required many evening practices; travel to out of town meets and quite frankly, was very expensive.  (Similar to other sports’ traveling teams.) I really didn’t want to make the commitment, considering the expense and amount of my time involved in getting them not only to practices but also out of town swim meets. I met with another mother friend, who herself has four daughters and served as a great advisor to me over the years. I asked her what I should do.  She said to me, “If one of my daughters had such a passion for an activity as both of yours do for swimming, I would do it.”  Then, I knew what to do.  And never looked back.  Both daughters had great careers in swimming.  Both swam at the State level, for their high schools, for Junior Olympics, coached teams themselves and even today, one is in Masters swimming. 


A realistic expectation, however, is that your child will not go to the Olympics or get a scholarship to a Division I school. 


Taking swimming, for example; it is estimated that 50,000 children are involved in competitive swimming in the US, yet every 4 years; only 52 swimmers go to the Olympics.  That is a reality check, for sure.  But, participation in youth sports reaps rewards in many areas, for not only kids and their parents, but the family unit as well.  If your child has interest, go for it.  As far as they want.


What about softball?  Stay tuned.