Should You Enroll Your Toddler in Athletics?

When parents bring home a brand new baby they often spend time daydreaming of all that’s to come: the birthday parties, the visits to family, and, often, the sporting events their child will one day participate in. While parents can be anxious to begin exposing their child to athletics, and many programs begin to allow kids to register when they are two or three years old, many wonder how young is too young for sports.

The answer, it turns out, is that it depends on what you’re looking for in a sports program. If you’re looking for a competitive program that will offer practices, games, and serious skill development, it’s likely best to wait to enroll your child until they are at least of school age. If you’re looking for a way to expose your child to athletics in a way that’s fun and non-competitive though, than enrolling a toddler or preschooler in a sports program might be a good choice for your family.

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To find out more about athletic programs for young children, I talked with Mike Stiner, the director of operations for Soccer Shots of Charlotte, a program that offers beginner soccer to children as young as two years old.

Stiner says that for young kids the thing that matters most in any sports program is fun.

“At this age, it’s all about having fun in a non-competitive, safe, encouraging space.” In a quality program for young kids, coaches and parents will prioritize fun and learning above competition.  

If you’ve found a fun-based program for your tot and are getting ready to enroll them, it will be important to prepare them for success.

“In my opinion, the best way parents can prepare their 2-3 year old for success, is to take away all expectations of them and to simply let them know they love watching them play. It should be a fun, positive experience, period.” Says Stiner, “Encouraging them to play, to listen to the coach, and to try new things is also very helpful on a practical level.”

If you try out sports and your little one doesn't seem to love it, that’s okay! Kids change rapidly when they’re young and, often, waiting just a season or two to try again can make a big difference. “Sometimes a child isn’t quite ready for an organized sport, and that’s completely fine.” Says Stiner,  “At this age, a few months can make a huge difference, and we’ve seen that acknowledging that by withdrawing a child from the program can set them up for success in a future season.”

The bottom line is, sports can be a fun, exciting way for young kids to learn, play and grow, as long as parents keep their expectations in check!

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Should You Enroll Your Toddler in Athletics?

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com ... More

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