By Lisa Murphy
DO START WITH THE BASICS Jennifer Visser’s son, Joel, seldom made it past the first session of the various sports she enrolled him in at age four. “A lot of programs simply make an adult sport available to younger children,” says the Toronto mom. Today, he’s having a ball with soccer, thanks to a program called Sportplay that taught him some basic skills first. Likewise, don’t put your child in hockey until he’s learned to skate, says Doug Allport, spokesperson for the Kanata Girls Hockey Association in Ontario.
DON’T SIGN THEM UP FOR THE TEAM JUST YET
“Involve them in swimming for the life skills and gymnastics for coordination, but hold off on team sports until after age six,” suggests Gail Sullivan, a Kanata mother of five kids involved in swimming lessons, gymnastics, figure skating, soccer and hockey. “Six seems to be the age when kids can develop skills and are mature enough to be out there on their own,” agrees Allport.
DO MAKE IT A WIN-WIN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY Gillian Green, a Toronto mom of two, loved her five-year-old son’s tennis lessons. “It allowed us to be outdoors, and he enjoyed the satisfaction of hitting a nice ball,” she says. Sullivan took it to a whole new level when her kids got hooked on hockey: “I actually started playing myself about four years ago in a recreational women’s league.”
DON’T FORCE YOUR SOLO ARTIST INTO A TEAM SPORT Listen to your child, says Emily Gemelas of the Abbotsford Soccer Association in B.C. “I remember one kid who clearly didn’t want to be on the soccer field – turns out he loved fencing, an individual sport.”
DO DIAL IT BACK Pushing your child into the highest level can lead to burnout. Plus, sports seasons are getting longer, often year-round. “The business of sport is creating demands that are excessive for children,” says Allport. “It’s healthy to hang up the skates and come back passionate.”
DO LET KIDS BE KIDS “What I like least are parents who forget that it’s the child’s game, not theirs,” says Sullivan. Gemelas agrees. She recommends that parents read Child’s Play (Vintage Canada) by Silken Laumann to remind themselves about the importance of unstructured play.