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An age-by-age guide to picking the best sport for your child

When it comes to sports for your kids you’re spoilt for choice. So how do you decide what to enrol your child in when they may not be old enough to decide for themselves?

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A good place to start is finding out what sports are most age-appropriate for your kids. While there are no hard and fast rules, in general what’s perfect for a 10-year-old isn’t going to be suitable for a toddler.

Age 2 to 5

Toddler girl running
Image: images by Tang Ming Tung/Moment/Getty Images

Toddlers and preschoolers (2 to 5 years old) may be beginning to get the hang of many basic movements but are too young for most organised sports. So at this age don’t stress too much if your little one isn’t enrolled in a dozen after-school activities. Toddlers who participate in organised sports typically don’t gain any long-term advantage in terms of future sports performance, says the Mayo Clinic.

At this age unstructured free play is usually best such as running, dancing, tumbling, throwing, catching and swimming. However, if your 3-year-old is showing a passion for football or ice skating don’t discourage it, but make sure the environment is suitable for your child. Contact your local club and find out what their recommended starting age is and what level of commitment is required. Remember there’s no rush — your football-mad toddler will be more than happy chasing a ball around the garden with you until he’s old enough to join a team.

Age 6 to 9

Girls doing gymnastics
Image: Westend61/Getty Images

As children get older their vision, ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, attention spans and transitional skills, such as throwing for distance, improve. They’re also better able to follow directions. For 6 to 9 year olds consider organised activities such as running, football, touch rugby, gymnastics, swimming, tennis and martial arts.

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Age 10 plus

Boy playing basketball
Image: JR Carvey/Streetfly Studio/Blend Images/Getty Images

By the age of 10 children have mature vision, better coordination and balance and the ability to understand and recall sports strategies. They are typically ready to take on complex skill sports, such as football, basketball, hockey, netball and volleyball.

As well as considering whether a sport is age-appropriate for your child, take into account how much they will enjoy the activity based on their maturity and abilities. Your child may show a natural preference for one activity over another, which shouldn’t be ignored.

You may also want to think carefully before encouraging your child to focus on one particular sport only because this could stop them from fully testing their skills and discovering other activities they may enjoy.

Remember kids change as they grow and your little one might show a keen interest in one activity one year, only to switch to another by the next. Keep monitoring their level of interest and stay involved in their progress. Be positive and encouraging by emphasising effort and enjoyment over winning and never try to persuade your child to continue with a sport they clearly don’t enjoy, whatever age they are.

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