|: Sports and children
DEAR DR.PAUL: My five-year-old son seems to love sports
and wants to start playing a team sport. Is he too young?
PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: Thanks for the question.
I have wanted to talk about sports and children for some time
now, so this gives me the opportunity.
As a father of children who participate in sports, I have seen
the pleasure that sports gives them. On the other hand, I have
also seen the negative effects of over zealous parents and coaches.
All too often, I see coaches pushing children to win, when they
should be emphasizing and teaching fair play, skills and, most
of all, having fun.
Sports activities should be a source of fun, not stress. As
a matter of fact, participating in sports is a great way to
teach children to cope with stress caused by any problem. Children
should be rewarded for trying hard or gaining certain skills
or abilities and should not be punished or criticized for losing.
If your child's coach places top priority on winning, you, as
parents, have the right to intervene.
Now, for your question: At what age should a child start playing
organized sports? Usually, a child should wait until the age
of six before starting in team sports. In the meantime, free
play is advised until it's time for them to participate in a
sport they enjoy.
The age cut off may vary form child to child, as each child
is different and matures at a different pace. It is important,
however, that players of similar size, maturity and skills be
matched as opponents, and the rules or play area should be adjusted
for the age, ability and size of the participants. For example,
the basketball net could be lowered, or the size of the soccer
field be made smaller for younger players.
Then there is the issue of parents "pushing" a child into a
sport. Very often children are placed in one sport so they can
specialize and excel in it. This sometimes happens if the activity
is an Olympic sport. In these cases, the children practise and
play very long hours on a daily basis - even during school.
I discourage this kind of "specialization" in pre-adolescent
children because it has been shown that the more sports a child
plays, the more he will succeed in a specific sport later. Generally,
pre-teen children are not mature enough to cope with all the
stress of practice involved, let alone with the interference
in their social lives. For these reasons, I do not think children
before their teenage years should be specializing in one sport
A discussion of sports in children would not be complete without
talking about injury prevention. The risk of injury obviously
increases as the contact increases. For example, football produces
many more injuries than other sports. Boxing is a high-risk
sport for brain damage, and I do not feel that children should
participate in this sport.
Regardless of the sport, proper, protective equipment should
always be used. On a final note, there is no reason that children
with asthma cannot participate in sports. We are able to control
asthma in most children with medications and other measures
so that they can fully participate in and enjoy the benefits
The information provided in this site is
designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to
replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is
it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If
you suspect that your child has a medical condition, always
consult a physician.
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