Getting your child involved in youth sports can be exciting and a little bit stressful. We are eager to see them active and enjoying their time on the playing field, but we worry. Will they enjoy it? How will they perform? Is this the right sport for my child? Despite what many of us might think, kids don’t come from the womb knowing they want to be a football MVP or track star, or even knowing what sports they want to play. As parents, it’s our job to expose them to and encourage them to play a variety of sports without pushing our own agendas or creating undue pressure to choose one sport over another.

It’s a balancing act and a lot easier said than done, particularly for those of us who played sports at a higher level. Even fond memories from our own youth sports experiences can be enough to torque up the enthusiasm a little too high. After all, we just want our children to enjoy the same success and sense of comradery that we did, and maybe (just maybe) we’ll get to relive some of those glory days along the way.

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

Get Moving Early

It’s always good to get your child moving early, starting with easy activities that aren’t difficult to master like throwing and catching, kicking a ball or swinging a bat. Once your child reaches age 6 or 7, they are physically and mentally ready to begin participating in organized sports. Studies have shown that participating in youth sports helps kids to maintain a healthier lifestyle and has social benefits as well.

Find the Right Fit

Here’s the best way to help your youngster find his/her sport:

  • If they haven’t expressed an interest in a particular sport, talk to them about the various options in your area. Sometimes having a buddy playing the same sport is all the encouragement it takes.
  • Begin their exposure with less competitive sports. Try to find a youth sports program that allows kids to rotate through several different sports, giving them the opportunity to learn the rules and try out the equipment before having to commit for an entire season. If you live in the Crofton, Maryland area, Athletic Performance, Inc. (API) offers their All Sport Kids Academy to children ages 3-8. They play soccer, tennis, baseball, lacrosse, football, basketball and more with age appropriate rules and instruction. They work on motor skills and coordination with an emphasis on fun and sportsmanship. There’s greater focus on sport-specific skills as the kids get older.
  • Talk to your child and find out what he likes. Observe his strengths and weaknesses with any physical activity. Does he have good hand-eye coordination? Is he competitive and driven to succeed or happier cheering from the sidelines? Is he happier doing things on his own rather than in a team environment?
  • If the team environment isn’t a good fit, try some individual sports like tennis or swimming. If ball sports aren’t your child’s cup of tea, perhaps martial arts or dance will be. Whatever your child’s personality, there are lots of sports option. Children are usually drawn to sports they feel they are good at.
  • Be sure to choose the appropriate level of competition or frustration can set in. Competing against older, more experienced athletes can make anyone want to throw in the towel. By the same token, if your child shows a natural ability for a sport, a lack of competition at the recreational level may quickly become tiresome.
  • Whatever your child’s ability level, be supportive of their accomplishments regardless of how big or small. Children pick up on even the smallest cues.
  • Be patient. There are plenty of professional athletes who admit to being pretty bad at their chosen sport in the early years. Becoming good at anything takes time.

Know When to Step Back

If you get repeated push back from your child – refusal to participate, disinterest, expressed dislike for practice or games—dig a little deeper. Sometimes there are other issues at play. As a parent, you’ll need to encourage your child to keep playing or decide if and when it’s best to move on to something else. And it can be a fine line between supporting them and forcing them to do something they don’t enjoy.

Taking the time and patience to help your child find the sport or sports that are a good fit for his skills and personality can take a little time. Let your child be the guiding force. In the end, you’ll both be happier for it.