Children, sports and exercise: Choices for all ages

Children's sports promote fitness, but not everyone thrives in formal leagues. Help your child find the right activities and venue — school, recreation center or backyard.

Want to give your child a head start on lifelong fitness? Consider children's sports and other kid-friendly physical activities.

With your encouragement and support, chances are a few sports will spark your child's interest. Fan the flame by taking your child to local sporting events or sharing your own interests in sports and exercise.

Ages 2 to 5

Toddlers and preschoolers are beginning to master many basic movements, but they're too young for most organized sports. Toddlers who participate in organized sports typically don't gain any long-term advantage in terms of future sports performance.

For children in this age group, unstructured free play is usually best. This may include:

  • Running

  • Hopping, skipping and jumping

  • Tumbling

  • Throwing and catching

  • Swimming

Ages 6 to 9

As children get older, their vision, attention spans, motor coordination and skills, such as throwing for distance, improve. They're also better able to follow directions.

Sports and activities that may be appropriate for this age group include:

  • T-ball, softball or baseball

  • Soccer

  • Running

  • Gymnastics

  • Swimming

  • Tennis

  • Martial arts

  • Dancing

Ages 10 to 12

At this age, most children have mature vision and the ability to understand and recall sports strategies. They are typically ready to take on complex skill sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and volleyball. Keep in mind, however, that growth spurts caused by puberty can temporarily affect a child's coordination and balance.

Whatever sports your child participates in, ensure that he or she has a foundation of proper technique and movement. Coaches and sports professionals, such as golf and tennis pros, can be helpful resources.

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