Many parents today hear stories about how Tiger Woods swung his first golf club at age 2. Then there’s Serena Williams who picked up her first tennis racket at just 4 years old and Shaun White who, at the age of 7, already had a snowboarding sponsorship.
Parents with young kids dream about their kids being the next Tara Lipinski who won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics at the young age of 15 or Michelle Wie who qualified for the USGA Amateur Championship at just 10 years old.
It would seem that the secret to reaching professional athlete success is to start your kids young. However, parents with big dreams for their kids may want to take caution and consider all the caveats of signing up a 2-year-old for professional lessons or asking a preschooler to give up playtime to practice drills instead.
There are enough warnings that come with having your child participate in a sport too young, let alone have them attend lessons and practices that already expect them to master certain skills to prepare them for competition.
There are some sports that kids can easily take up at any age such as swimming and gymnastics. These sports will still be viewed by the child as “play.” Learning to swim at an early age is not only a fun activity but a necessary skill that everyone should learn as early in life as they can.
Introductory gymnastics is also great for early ages. Kids as young as 2 can benefit from gymnastics as it helps them develop balance, agility, and coordination. Gymnastics also teaches skills that children can use later in other sports.
Kids are typically not ready for competitive skills that require more dexterity and capacity to comprehend the rules and fundamentals of the game until they are at least 5 or 6. Remember that sports like soccer, football, and basketball can have complicated rules that not all children will quickly pick up right away.
Swimming and gymnastics as a fun pastime at the tender age of 2 or 3 is one thing, but to expect kids to compete at this level is another. This is the part that many do not realize when it comes to famous athletes. While they may have picked up a racket, a gold club, or put on their skates at a very early age, they would not compete until many years later. The parents of these successful athletes saw a gift in their children and simply nurtured it.
Forcing a young child to compete at a very young age may lead to them to eventually resent the sport, burnout, and give it up altogether early on. The fact remains that kids will be kids and many of them will not want to focus on anything too serious, especially during a time while they still have short attention spans and haven’t quite figured out who they are, let alone their passions.
As a parent asking yourself “how young is too young?” – the best advice would be for you to think about whether enrolling your child in sports in more for you or your kid. Have they expressed interest in the sport? Do they have a natural skill that you feel needs to be cultivated? Are you supporting their dreams and ambitions?