Children and Sports: Part 1

16 May

France 2008

This has been a topic that has been on my mind since Jayden was 2 years old.  While in France, the only sport Jayden could participate in was gymnastics (and that was because I lied and told the instructor he was 3 years of age).  When we returned home from France, there was not one organized sport Jayden could enroll in in our area.  Doesn’t that just boggle your mind?  Don’t get my wrong, local health clubs such as the YMCA do offer programs such as Tiny-Tot swimming and Mommy & Me playground but from what I’ve noticed there isn’t much structure to those activities.

Since Jayden is now 4 years old there are many more organized and structured sports that he could enroll in.  Well, kinda.  This winter Jayden was enrolled in 2 7-week sessions of Rookie Basketball.  He was so excited to be on a “team” and play some games.  However, I quickly realized that Rookie Basketball could also be called kindergarden gym class.  In a 30 minute session, 5 minutes were spent getting the kids attention, another 5 getting drinks, 5 minutes of basketball related drills and 15 minutes of tag.  That’s totally work $180, right?  On the very last day of class the kids did get to play a game for 20 minutes and that’s what persuaded me to sign Jayden up for the 2nd session.  He just loved being part of a real “game” with kids his size.  Am I totally out of my tree for wanting 30 minutes of basketball?

Currently, Jayden is playing soccer and t-ball.  Both of which is seems to be enjoying!  He isn’t one to get into the “action” on the soccer field but if he gets the ball, watch out!  He dribbles the ball as fast as he can to get a goal so no one will steal the ball from him!

Tomorrow I am going to follow up this post with my thoughts on Children and Sports in general.  With that being said, I will leave you with this… since when do you not keep score in Little League?

Massachusetts 2011


7 Responses to “Children and Sports: Part 1”

  1. Maria May 17, 2011 at 12:31 PM #

    I think at a young age, team sports are more about building life skills than competition, and not keeping score serves a distinct purpose of keeping the focus on learning rather than winning. (Alfie Kohn has written a lot about this, but so have many others. see:

    At four, when I sign my son up for a sport, I want him to have fun burning off some energy first while learning life skills. I think competition takes away from the inherent value of the learning at his age, though some limited amount of performance based outcome is also good. For the most part, however, I would much rather he have six weeks of soccer that culminated in one game, than a game every week.

    When scores are kept, the pressure to win is instantly applied, and yes, from a very young age. That pressure leads to several outcomes, but usually a lot of stress– some kids thrive, most do not. It also can lead to anxiety and a host of additional negatives for young children. 70% of kids participating in an organized sport league quit by age 13 some in part due to burnout (see more information on this at

    All of that to say, I don’t know when they stopped keeping score in little league, but my question would be when did they start? And who started it? And why? Was it for the children? My guess the answer is no.

    BTW– Erin posted some on this not long ago, which re-reading my comment, I still believe the same. (

    Here is a post I wrote when TB was in a soccer league that was supposed to be non-competitive, but the parents were anything but…

    Also, this article certainly raised my alarm about too much too early.

    And oddly enough, Lance Armstrong’s Foundation website has some good information on children in sports, though his site writes mostly of school aged children:

    there is a toddler section though:

  2. Maria May 17, 2011 at 12:33 PM #

    PS I’m pretty sure my comment went to spam because I had a bunch of links in it. I hope you see it anyway. 🙂

  3. Erin May 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM #

    Abby and Elijah’s t-ball team doesn’t do score either. It is 4 innings where everyone bats, no one is out and only one base can be taken. I do think it is good for the kids to learn about the game, but it is hard for the kids who are ready to play at a higher level. And that is where I think organizations should feel free to move kids up ages if they are ready and their parents are comfortable with it. We are going to ask to have Elijah moved up for soccer this fall b/c I think he would be bored in U6. It is the same reason I moved Abby ahead in school. If there is talent, I think they should not have to be held back by other kids who are developing along completely appropriate age guidelines 🙂 Looking forward to tomorrow’s post as you know this is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about too 🙂

    • Maria May 17, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

      I think you bring up another challenge I see in age-based programs for both education and athletics– it ignores the talents and development of children at a time when there is great variation. Children learn differently and at different times, and I would prefer children be divided by already mastered skills rather than age. I think it is more common in gymnastics than other sports, but that might be due to my familiarity with how those programs tend to be run.

      • Erin May 17, 2011 at 2:42 PM #

        I agree with being divided more on ability levels, but I do see the challenge they are faced with in doing that:

        1. It takes more time because you have to have evaluations and I see in t-ball how hard it is to just come up with parents to coach teams, let alone finding informed people to do these evaluations

        2. One of the big hold-ups with moving Abby ahead was the concern of her not being a socially mature. And in certain sports, physical size can also be a consideration if you are going to put a 5 year old with an 8 year old. So although kids can be developmentally ahead in some areas, it isn’t often that they are caught up in every area, so I see the challenge in that as well.

        Gymnastics is definitely an easy one to move kids ahead (my experience with swimming was the same, so it may be with individual sports that are able to be performed at a younger age). How was TB’s soccer done last fall?

  4. Maria May 17, 2011 at 3:09 PM #

    I’m sorry– apparently I can only reply outside this time, so the conversation continues.

    I definitely understand and see the challenges you listed. It is never easy. I have education on my mind, as we are in the process of applying for a school that divides by age, but then also allows children to move up or down for activities in which they are more or less advanced (i.e. PK student moves to K class for a specific topic, if s/he is ready; K student moves to PK for certain activities). I think it can be done and done well.

    TB’s soccer is interesting this year. They scrimmage, but don’t keep score in the class, though they are divided in to two teams. TB’s soccer class is offered at his school with is friends from his class, so it is very small. In the winter session, we placed him with the 3.5-4.5 year olds, but because he was one of the oldest in his school-day class, he was not in soccer with many of his friends. In the spring we went with the 4-5 yo (spring session), and now he is one of the youngest in the class, but he is also one of the most skilled. We came to this decision with the coaches and teachers. He definitely struggles some with the social maturity aspect, but his coach is very patient, and TB catches on to the skills/drills easily, so that helps. Plus, he has no fear of failing and the coach’s approval is not conditional on winning or losing, so he just keeps trying over and over again. Do I think they are forming him in to the next super-soccer-star? No. Do I want them to? No. If he likes it and enjoys the experience, he will want to continue and work on the skills on his own. I am ok with that, especially since he also likes other activities. 🙂

    That being said, I am not sure I would be comfortable putting him in a class with 7-8 year olds, but you never know.

    While the answer for how to divide the children will never be easy or straightforward, I would still like the talents and skills to be considered and one of the decision criteria rather than strictly going by age. Children will quit out of boredom, just as they do out of being pushed too hard too early.

    That being said, I think there is inherent value in having kids learn in a stress-free, competition-free environment. I realize kids growing up around competition will look at the game differently, but in this area, I think we must realize our children are not the norm. Most kids are not watching basketball games their entire lives. In some ways, it is even different for me, as TB has not really watched Kevin play a lot of games (at least that he can remember) and he has spent some time watching me run and not win, which has lead to a lot of discussion about the value of competition outside of winning.

  5. Erin May 17, 2011 at 3:44 PM #

    All great points. It is always nice when programs hit all the ideals! Good stuff to think through!

    Joe and I actually have to decide by tomorrow if we want to accept the invitation for Abby to be in the gifted and talented language arts program for 3rd grade. She is already ahead a year, so we aren’t sure if it might be pushing her too much, but she does seem to be pretty talented in this area. Of course, it is more time intensive for me too and I have Elijah starting next year. Ahh, decisions, decisions!

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