Dear Mr. Dad: My 5-year old daughter loves sports. My wife wants to sign her up for all sorts of teams, but I’m not so sure. When I was a kid, my dad put a lot of pressure on me to do every sport possible and I ended up hating it. I don’t want to put my daughter through the same thing. When’s the “right” time to introduce her to sports?
If your daughter loves sports, there’s nothing wrong with getting her on a team. But before you make a nonrefundable deposit and buy a bunch of expensive equipment, consider her emotional maturity. Does she listen to – and take direction from – her teacher and other adults in her life? Does she deal well with making mistakes, and can she take constructive criticism? If the answers are “No,” you may want to wait a while. But if you answered “Yes,” she’s probably ready for the fun and learning that comes with more structured play.
At this age, any program your daughter joins – whether it’s soccer, softball, swimming or one that doesn’t start with “s” – should focus on appreciating and understanding the game, building and developing basic skills, and having fun.
Then, you need to make sure that you, your wife, the coaches and your daughter have those same expectations.
You’ll also want to consider schedules. Twice-a-week practices and games every Saturday and Sunday could be overwhelming. A once-a-week team might be a much less stressful way to start.
Sports teach a number of really valuable life lessons, such as the need to stick with what you start and the importance of being a team player. But the most important ones are that nobody wins all the time, and that it takes a lot of hard work to succeed. Young children are easily frustrated and may want to give up if they can’t do something that other kids have already mastered.
When the season starts, keep your roles straight: The coach is the coach, you and your wife are the parents. The coach’s job is to teach your daughter the skills she needs to develop and to remind her to pay attention even if nothing seems to be happening. Your job is to wait until the end of the game and, win or lose, offer a hug, a fist bump, an enthusiastic “great job!” and a snack.
Finally, during games be the kind of parent you wish your dad had been: Cheering on the sideline is great, but booing the other team, criticizing your daughter or her teammates, or running onto the field and arguing with the officials is not.
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”