Is your child ready for sports?

November 4, 2010

By Bob Taylor

How do  you decide when the time is right?

Ryan Fleisher had a hunch her daughters would become gymnasts. Almost as soon as Mikayla and Raelynn were able to walk, they would enter the living room and perform their version of a gymnastics meet for Ryan and her husband.

Both daughters have grown up around gymnastics as their mom is Issaquah High School’s gymnastics coach and also an instructor for the Gymnastics East program. Mikayla, 11, and Raelynn, 8, both are in competitive gymnastics now after beginning in an introductory program.

Fleisher said she believes it’s advantageous for children to get involved in some kind of physical activity at an early age. She’s not alone in that belief. There have been several national studies that maintain children who get involved in physical activity early and have a nutritious diet are more likely to lead healthy lives. It is believed that people who are active while young will be active as adults.

If done correctly, organized sports can be beneficial, providing a framework for children to play in a safe and healthy manner.

The question for many parents is when to start their children in organized sports. According to a study by the National Center for Sports Safety, there is no definite age or magical sign marking when a child is ready to participate in organized sports. Each child and sport is different, making it, by necessity, a case-by-case decision.

Fleisher said she believes it’s important for children to get started in some kind of introductory program before embarking on a competitive program.

Gymnastics East, for example, has an introductory program for children 18 months to 3 years of age. The Issaquah Swim School also has an introductory program that starts with children 6 months of age to 3 years.

Issaquah Parks and Recreation have a variety of programs for children age 3 through middle school. One of the popular programs is the sports sampler, where children ages 3-5 get the opportunity to try a variety of sports. For instance, fall activities include soccer, T-ball and basketball.

Some organized programs like the Issaquah Little League start at age 5 with T-ball. The program is structured so that players can steadily develop their skills. The Issaquah Gliders running program begins at age 5. For other organized programs, like lacrosse and football, children should be at least 6.

Fleisher said the United States Gymnastics Association won’t let children take part in competition until they are 6.

“The USGA believes that children younger than 6 aren’t able to handle the stress and the pressure of competition,” Fleisher said.

Many national studies show it’s important for children to be examined by a physician before getting involved in organized sports.

Fleisher said she believes sports have had many benefits for her girls.

“My kids have turned out pretty healthy and are well-rounded. Being involved in gymnastics, they are learning time management,” Fleisher said. “They not only have time for practice, they have to set aside time for homework. Kids who are involved in sports usually turn out to be good students.”

Fleisher added one other important aspect of sports.

“Kids have to have fun. Whether it‘s gymnastics, football, debate or chess, it‘s important for kids to have fun,” Fleisher said. “If my girls weren’t having fun, they wouldn’t be in gymnastics.”

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