Is Your Child Ready to Play?

How to tell if your child is ready for youth sports

Dr. Andrew Jacobs

| 3 min read


There exists no magic time when a child will go to his or her parents with a desire to play a sport. It could be as early as 4 or 5 years old or it might be closer to middle school. Every child is different.

Ultimately, it should be each individual athlete’s choice to participate in athletics and to decide how important participation is to him. This includes making decisions regarding how important the sport is to their life, how much time they are willing to spend on the sport, and the intensity level at which they participate.

“When should I get my child involved in athletics?” is a common question. The question itself represents a misunderstanding, however, by the parent. Parents should not “get” their child involved in athletics; parents should listen to their child and support activities at the child’s initiative. Help create a vision, an opportunity, a hunger, and then help provide the resources to fill or feed the need.

Parents, establishing this “personal ownership” of your child’s decision to participate in sports should begin at the very start. Your children should only begin competing in organized sports after they have shown interest by “playing” sports enthusiastically with their friends or based on their level of engagement at school during recess or PE. If you pay attention, they will tell you about their athletic conquests on the playground at school or the game-winning shot they made in a pick-up game after school; their PE teacher may even tell you about potential or excitement they demonstrate during class. When your child is interested in competing, he or she will let you know with specific actions and words. It’s your job to harness that interest and allow your child to gain ownership of his or her athletic involvement.

Allowing children to be responsible for their entry into organized athletics establishes them as the internal authority regarding their athletic life; the parent’s role is to facilitate the pursuit of their interests. When children “own” the activity, they keep playing for their own, personal reasons. And, hopefully, one of the big reasons they want to participate is to have fun.


Excerpted from Just Let Them Play: Guiding Parents, Coaches and Athletes Through Youth Sports. One of the country’s most respected sports psychologists, Dr. Andrew Jacobs works with athletes of all ages, from youth athletes to collegiate, professional and Olympic competitors.

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