We constantly hear about the importance of regular physical activity for children. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children ages 3 to 5 are active throughout each day, and children ages 6 to 17 should do at least one hour of “moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily”. So how do you make sure you’re raising active children?

Kids sports are the perfect way to maintain a healthy mind and body while building confidence and social skills. There are all types of kids sports available in most areas around the US. Even if your child prefers the TV over working up a sweat, there’s likely an easy sport to try that encourages an active lifestyle. And these days, there are plenty of choices when it comes to sports for girls and boys.

Pink banner with text saying "When your logistics hero also tells the best jokes" and showing a babysitter holding a toddler while they both laugh.With several organized leagues available, including individual and team sports, a little research can help you find the right fit for everyone in your family. By simply talking to your friends or searching online, you can find kids sports organizations in and around your neighborhood. Check out the National Alliance for Youth Sports to learn more about sports for kids and what to expect from different programs.

Ways your child can participate in kids sports

There are two ways to participate in youth sports—individual and team. Each brings its own set of benefits, but depending on her personality and interests, you may find that one is a better option for your child.

Individual sports

If you have an introverted child who is uncomfortable in social settings, try signing up for an individual sport like gymnastics, swimming, tennis, martial arts or figure skating. She’ll be in a class with other kids, which might help her come out of her shell, but won’t have to rely on others while participating.

Team sports

For children who love to socialize and thrive in a group setting, team sports may do the trick. Sports like soccer, field hockey, t-ball, basketball and football require kids to work together to score a goal, point, run, etc. Your child will have a specific job to do which brings a sense of responsibility. When you think your child is ready to be a part of a team, join an age-appropriate organization that works patiently with kids trying a team sport for the first-time.

When children pick a sport to try, understand they may love it or hate it. Either one is okay, because ultimately sports activities for kids are all about learning. Participating in multiple sports throughout childhood is a great way to prevent boredom, discover new opportunities, make friends, and decide what you like. Just like any other kids activity, youth sports encourages self-discovery, self-esteem and practice.

Age-appropriate sports activities

Age Group Goals Activities or sports for kids
Infant to 2 years Active play Swimming, gymnastics, running, jumping, playground fun
3 to 5 years Coordination, technique, participation Catching, throwing, kicking, t-ball, soccer, swimming, dance, tumbling, climbing
6 to 10 years Teamwork, practice Baseball, softball, hockey, basketball, football, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, track and field

If you’re just getting into extracurricular activities, you may be wondering which sports your child should try first. Here’s a breakdown of when to start which activities:

Infant to 2 years old: Now is the time to incorporate active play whenever possible. Developing gross and fine motor skills is important for babies. While organized sports may not be your best bet at the moment, there are plenty of parent-child classes available at your local community center. Look for early childhood swimming and gymnastics classes. Also, running and jumping activities in the yard or at the playground (when old enough) are good for this age group.

Green banner with text saying "When school's canceled but work isn't" and a child jumping while holding hands with a nanny.3 to 5 years old: Coordination is developing at a fast pace for toddlers. Practicing catching, throwing and kicking helps, making t-ball and soccer ideal sports for this age group. Swimming, dance, tumbling and climbing keep toddlers active while having fun. You can usually find leagues specifically designed to teach proper technique, focused more on drills and participation than anything else.

6 to 10 years old: Team sports are usually introduced to school-age kids. Practices and games typically occur on a weekly basis, promoting teamwork and putting drills into practice. Baseball, softball, hockey, basketball, and football are popular sports for kids at this age. Other children, not interested in team or contact sports, can stick with individual sports such as tennis, swimming, gymnastics and track and field.

Here’s the bottom line —there are so many sports activities out there for kids. Trying one each season will help your child decide what he likes and doesn’t like. Encouraging your child to stick to the sport throughout the entire session (even if it’s not her favorite) will help her understand commitment. Once the sport is wrapped up, she can move on and try another activity. That one might just be the winner. Youth sports are more than just running and sweating. They offer your children an opportunity to grow physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.

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