When Should My Child Play Sports?

By: Mollie Shauger | Tuesday, August 13, 2019 | Youth Programs

Children playing soccer. Credit: YUSA

Sports are a great way for your child to get regular physical activity, learn values like teamwork and sportsmanship, and develop fundamental skills. 

If your son or daughter has shown interest in sports, how do you know if they’re ready to play?

Determining a child’s readiness to play sports depends on the physical, mental and social demands of the sport, experts say. Enrolling children in sports that are beyond their developmental ability can lead to frustration and burnout. Also, early specialization in a single sport can lead to overuse injuries.

The first 12 years of a child’s life is a time for sampling a variety of sports and focusing on skill development, practice and having fun, rather than competition, says the NCAA

Sports readiness by age

Pediatric health professionals have broken down sports readiness by stages, based on the skills and abilities children have at certain ages. 

Before age 6, most children don’t have the basic motor skills for organized sports, and their balance and attention span are limited. Ideal sports for this age are those that focus on the basic skills. These include:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Tumbling
  • Throwing and catching
  • Riding a bike or tricycle

 By age 6, most kids have the basic motor skills for simple organized sports, but may lack hand-eye coordination and may not yet understand or remember concepts like teamwork and strategies. Good sports for this age include:

  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Soccer 
  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
  • Skiing 
  • Dancing

By ages 10 to 12, most children are ready for more complex sports, but the focus should still be on skill development and fun, and learning teamwork. Sports for this age could include:

  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Football
  • Ice hockey


When deciding on a sport, some questions to consider include:

  • How much will your child enjoy the activity?
  • Does the sport emphasize age-appropriate skill development?
  • How can I help my child explore different options and a variety of activities?

The YMCA offers a variety of youth sports programs for all skill levels. Contact your local branch to inquire about clinics, leagues and teams. Because the Y is for all, financial assistance is available to eligible families and individuals who would like to participate in Y programs.


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