Based on what you've read in this blog or what you may have read or learned elsewhere, you know participation in organized sports before the age of eight is far from ideal. It doesn't provide enough physical activity. It doesn't offer skill instruction or enough opportunity for skill improvement. It's often too competitive and therefore stressful for young children. And children under the age of eight don't possess the physical, cognitive, social, or emotional skills to participate successfully in organized sports.
But he wants to play. It's an all-too-common scenario in today's culture. What's a parent to do?
Well, if you absolutely cannot talk her out of it, the most important thing you can do is make sure any experience your child has with sports is a positive one. Otherwise the possibility of a lifetime of physical activity is in real jeopardy. But just this one task entails quite a lot.
Since too often children are enrolled in sports that their parents are excited about, you'll first want to ask your child what sport he's interested in. Does he want to play a team sport, like baseball, or does he prefer an individual sport, like swimming? Choice is essential to both enjoyment and a sense of autonomy. And, regardless of the choice he makes, he'll want and need your full support -- even when he changes his mind and decides he wants to try something else.
Also, bear in mind that any time you play a child in a situation for which she's not prepared, failure is the likely result. With failure comes loss of confidence and self-esteem and, ultimately, a feeling of worthlessness. Surely this isn't what you want for your child and should be avoided at all costs.
Children join sports programs because they want to have fun. Failure isn't fun, especially when you're too young to understand why you're failing; when, no matter how hard you try, you still can't succeed. While it isn't necessary to succeed all the time, a child will have fun if at least the potential for success is present. And that potential is most apt to exist when there's a balance between the child's skill level and the challenge of the activity. If the challenge is too easy, boredom sets in . If it's too difficult, learned helplessness is often the eventual result.
So, once your child has expressed interest in a particular sport, your first job will be to look for a program that doesn't treat children as small adults or, worse, small versions of professional athletes, which is harmful on any number of levels. In other words you don't want to enroll your child in a program where he's expected to play games (or, in a sport like swimming or karate, to take part in competitions) that haven't been modified radically for young children -- where he's expected to use physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills he hasn't yet acquired.
What do you look for instead? Look for a program where they actually teach children the skills they'll need to eventually play their chosen sport. Yes, some of the instruction can involve playing games. But these games shouldn't involve winning and losing. Nor should they be played in the traditional manner. Fields should be smaller, balls softer, equipment child-sized, and games shorter. Additionally, rules should be minimal, and there should be a small number of players per team.
Is your child having fun? Staying interested? Then it's the right choice for her. If the answer to either of these questions is no, it's time to look for something else.