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Ask and Expert - Organized Sports

Organized Sports
Organized Sports
My daughter is only 4 years old and I am feeling pressured to enroll her in an organized sports program. My friends have told me that if she doesn’t start playing sports at this age, she will get left behind as her peers advance. Is this true, and should I enroll her in a program at this young age?

Bradford Strand, Ph.D., Professor Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

You are not alone; many parents of young children wonder when they should start their children in an organized sports program. Parents have a difficult time not comparing the development of their children with the development of other children who are relatively the same age.

This sort of pressure, under which parents and children feel they need to participate in travel teams, camps, clinics,
in-season training and out-of-season training or else they will fall behind, is known as “sport entrapment.” This continuous promotion from other adults puts consistent negative pressure on parents to enroll their children in organized sports. It is causing increased pressure on the children because they are forced to compete at an earlier age before they truly are ready.

Tom Farrey, author of the book “Game On,” suggests that organized competition doesn’t breed success but, rather, that unstructured play often is more valuable. The attitude that the younger a child is engaged in an activity, the better that child will be at that activity is not correct. In fact, studies show that participation and specialization at an early age often lead to earlier burnout.

The readiness of a child to participate in a sport is something that many parents, coaches and organizations do not know how to evaluate. Children who are 4, 5 and 6 years old should not be participating in sports because of
the increased time spent away from families. Additionally, children are not ready to affiliate with a group other than their family, nor are they physically, cognitively, socially or emotionally ready for all that comes with organized sports.

Many parents are trapped and in such a hurry to enroll their children in sports programs before the children are ready that they (the parents) often are damaging their children rather than helping them.

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