Organized Sports: What Age to Begin?

We believe in the power of play in every educational context. Read on for more information about early sports experiences and how play can be at the core of the experience.

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Most researchers, early childhood educators and health care providers agree that from ages 2 - 5 free play is the priority and that any organized sport should emphasize:

  • FUN AND PLAYFULNESS
  • BASIC PHYSICAL SKILLS AND COORDINATION
  • EXPLORATION AND EXPERIMENTATION

While you can find passionate advocates for early specialization or sport-skill training, before age 6 it's still early. And as a former college athlete and coach, I would argue specializing before age 10 is still early! 

Research suggests that a sport-sampling approach is healthier physically, psychologically and cognitively at any age. But if your child does show a strong interest in a specific sport, look for programs that are focused on proper developmental outcomes and have coaches that know the age group.

At Improv Parenting we approach sport through the lens of PLAYFULNESS and EXPLORATION. In our preschool soccer classes we teach basic physical movements, cooperation and turn-taking, and some soccer-specific movements all while telling stories and using our imaginations. 

So how does playfulness enter into a sports practice?

1. Storytelling.

Telling and sharing stories seamlessly engages our emotions and intellect. We weave stories throughout our classes, and we incorporate the children's ideas so they are co-creators and invested at every turn. Clifford and red crab may make an appearance in our soccer classes. Or our feet have a perspective on what is happening with the soccer balls. 

2. Pretending is fun (and helpful) for any age.

Inviting children (or adults) to pretend is a gift of world-making. Together, you create an alternate space to explore and discover together. Collaborating creatively is fun, and the rules of regular life can still apply and be seamlessly woven into a new world. We weave in safety and respecting others within the frameworks of pretend. For example, Clifford might talk to the kids about using kind words with each other. Clifford holds the floor better than most adults!

3. Being silly and goofy - balanced with clear boundaries for safety and structure - is simply fun.

Doing weird things with your body is fun. Making strange noises and laughing together is fun. As adults we sometimes fear that if we let down our guard and are too silly, we will lose control or have a harder time setting boundaries. But in our experience the more we connect with kids 'on their level', the easier it is to set a firm line because they feel heard, understood and respected.